BWW Review: Ensemble Shakespeare Theatre Transforms Tragedy Using Theatre in LEAR'S SHADOW
LEAR'S SHADOW, a new play by Shakespeare Ensemble Theater Artistic Director, Brian Elerding, is a sensitive exploration of theatre's transformative ability to heal, even under the most devastating of circumstances. Using passages from King Lear as a tool within a contemporary storyline, it takes a thoughtful and surprisingly candid approach to the subject of loss.
The set-up is a rehearsal room with the audience seated at tables arranged for what appears to be a table read. Jack (Fred Cross) arrives in a wheelchair and is clearly in distress. Uncertain of his surroundings and exhibiting subtle behavioral quirks that signal something isn't right, he searches to remember the missing pieces. Enter Stephen (David Blue), a young man who reveals that Jack is head of Stephen's acting company. Jack thinks he is preparing to conduct a rehearsal but the scripts on the tables are the wrong play.
As Jack's frustration builds, Stephen stumbles upon a way to calm the older man by asking him to talk through the plot of King Lear with him. Jack admits that he has always wanted to take the subplot out and do only the Lear scenes. The dialogue that follows is both humorous and poignant.
Elerding directs the play in the round which adds an acute intimacy to the scenes. Most of the 70 minutes is a verbal dance for two making casting critical. Cross and Blue are equally compelling, handling both modern conversation and Shakespearean verse with ease. It is particularly affecting to watch Cross struggle with the loss of his short term memory as Jack, but then transform into an entirely different person, full of confidence and vigor, when he launches into King Lear's scenes.
Blue artfully portrays all of the remaining characters, including the king's three daughters, Lear's Fool, and the Earl of Kent, while seamlessly responding to an endless stream of tonal changes. When the depth of his own suffering finally breaks through the surface, the moment is electric. Katie Peabody (as Jack's daughter Rachel) adds a quiet intensity.
LEAR'S SHADOW is a fine new play, with courageous performances, that borrows from Shakespeare to mend a mind when it seems nothing else can. As a dialogue for healing, it is both relatable and transformational.
There is a great deal more to discuss but it is best left until after you see the play. A spoiler in the program (don't worry, it comes with an alert so you won't read it accidentally) will give those who want more information a leg up before they see the show, but I suggest waiting until it ends to read it. Much of the dramatic tension comes from the slow revelation of what has happened offstage before the play begins. Its rhythm builds throughout the piece delivering a potent message about our resiliency as human beings.
April 15 - May 6, 2017
The Ensemble Shakespeare Theater Co.
Lineage Performing Arts Center
89 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7:30.
Runtime: 70 minutes with no intermission.
Recommended for mature audiences due to some adult language.