King Lear

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September, 2023

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King Lear

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I have lost track of the number of times I have read King Lear or seen a production. The first time I read the play was in high school and the last time was for a university class when I returned to university after I retired. Each time something different about the play comes to the fore. Seeing King Lear at the Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario this summer was no exception. I was looking forward to this production not only because of my fondness for the material, but also because a favourite actor of mine was playing the lead – Paul Gross. If you have ever seen the TV series Due South or Slings and Arrows or the movies Getting Married in Buffalo Jump or Men With Brooms, you will be familiar with his work.

My sister and I bought tickets to the play well in advance because it was one that I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on. We were not disappointed. For the first time, I found myself laughing at different parts in the production. Previously I had always seen the play as an utter tragedy. However, Gross managed to convey some very comic aspects to the play as Lear traversed his downward spiral and was aware at times that he was losing his grip. Sometimes in tragedy the only thing we can do is laugh because otherwise it is so overwhelmingly tragic. Anyone who has experience with someone who is losing their grip of the present will find it relatable and the audience sure did.

Although the 2023 season has ended, it may be possible to see this production of King Lear on the Festival’s streaming service: STRATFEST@HOME | Stratford Festival.

Another related experience this season was the Meighen Forum Peer into the Playbill event titled Playing King Lear I attended in the Lazaridis Hall at the Tom Patterson Theatre. Shannon Taylor, who played Goneril, one of Lear’s daughters, in this year’s production, interviewed Paul Gross and Seana McKenna about their experiences playing King Lear. McKenna had played the part in Toronto in 2018. It was very interesting to hear their different perspectives, not the least being a man versus a woman playing the role. An added dimension, after having seen the play, was the camaraderie between Gross and Taylor in contrast to their animosity towards each other on stage. Lear really hates Goneril!

Denise Bridge

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