Why Lear? Why Now?
King Lear is a challenging play to produce. Long, deep, unconventional, difficult to stage, dark and bloody, with precious few moments of levity. It is not produced nearly as often as the other great Shakespeare tragedies.
Suddenly, King Lear is everywhere. Shakespeare in the Park in New York is doing Lear. Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford Festival Theater in Canada. England’s National Theater. Frank Langella was just Lear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Theater for a New Audience in New York. Shakespeare on the Shoreline is producing Lear in Guilford in August. And, of course, Middletown’s ARTFARM is opening a two week run of King Lear starting July 17.
Why is King Lear suddenly the Romeo and Juliet of the 2014 Season?
The two word answer is Baby Boom, which has matured into the Grayby Boom. Lear is about aging and the decisions that people make around aging. It starts with a poor decision made by an aging, ailing monarch in regard to his three daughters. The initial act of wrathful poor judgment – disinheriting his youngest and favorite daughter for failing to express her love for him with enough sugar – leads to a series of decisions by his family, friends, rivals and caregivers that ends with a stage full of corpses.
Raise your hand if issues around aging are a part of your life right now. Your own aging? Your aging parents, grandparents, mentors, friends? We are living in the first years of the Age of Aging, an Era in which terms like Assisted-Living, End of Life Decisions, Palliative Care, Dementia, Probate, Do Not Resuscitate and Power of Attorney are suddenly becoming as prevalent as productions of King Lear.
Lear was written over 400 years ago, and the story is set in pre-Christian Britain, yet the proud, disoriented and unpredictable King is as recognizable today as our own aging father. The chaos created by the powerful monarch’s abdication and descent into dementia is a mirror of what so many families are coping with today. Move down to the ground floor, take away the car keys, sell the house, move into a facility, call hospice, write the Living Will, talk about funeral plans. People love people who get old, who get sick, who die. Nobody gets out alive. As the German writer Goethe said, “An old man is always a King Lear.”
King Lear is being produced all over right now because it is a reflection of what we, and our society, are going through right now. Shakespeare, well presented, helps us to feel the depth of our own experiences by connecting us to universal truths of the collective human condition.
Connecticut Lear productions this summer:
ARTFARM’s Shakespeare in the Grove on the campus of Middlesex Community College in Middletown, featuring 80 year old actor John Basinger as Lear. July 17 – 20 & 24 – 27. www.art-farm.org
Shakespeare on the Shoreline on the Guilford Green, featuring David Richman as Lear. August 6 – 10. www.shorelinearts.org