King Lear by William Shakespeare – Play Review

The opening night performance of King Lear by William Shakespeare, directed by Angie Higgins and performed at Sanborn County Park in Saratoga did not disappoint and kept the audience riveted, to the very tragic end. Sangborn County Park is lushly wooded and the outdoor stage provides the perfect backdrop, with looming redwoods enhancing the sense of mystery and impending doom. Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company, committed to making Shakespeare accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, brings on stage, works of William Shakespeare in a way that demystifies the rich and challenging language of Shakespeare without dumbing it down. There are many opportunities for donors, corporate sponsors, ushers, and other volunteers and you can follow them on Twitter @ShadyShakes. King Lear performance was another amazing performance. Ross Arden Harkness was awesome as King Lear and the entire cast performed flawlessly, on the opening night. Acting, staging, lighting, choreographing of fencing and fight scenes, acoustics, enunciation, and costumes, were all flawless and delightful.

A storm is brewing in King Lear’s realm, as the aging monarch decides to distribute his wealth and spend his remaining years without the burdens of monarchy. He seeks declarations of love and regard from each of his three daughters. While his two daughters Gonoril and Regan, make flattering declarations of their love, his youngest, most favored daughter refuses to flatter him. “I love your Majesty, according to my bond; no more, no less,” says, Cordelia. Displeased, Lear disinherits her and keeping a retinue of 100 soldiers, divides the rest among his elder daughters and plans to spend the rest of his life with them and their husbands. His faithful servant, Kent, objects to this unfair treatment with a timely warning,
That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm.
Lear is enraged and banishes Kent from the country. Cordelia’s disinheritance leads the Duke of Burgundy to withdraw his suit, but the King of France is impressed by her honesty and marries her.

Soon after Lear divides his wealth between Gonoril and Regan, they seek to lower his retinue of soldiers and reduce his power.
O, sir! you are old;
Nature in you stands on the very verge
Of her confine.”You should be rul’d and led,” says Regan. Lear marches out into the storm, raging against his misfortune and his ungrateful daughters, “I am a man, more sinn’d against than sinning,” says Lear. The Fool remarks on the man who has planned his future based on flattery, “He’s mad, that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath.”  While the Fool mocks Lear’s misfortune, Kent, Lear’s loyal servant, disguises himself and finding his way back into Lear’s service, protects him and guides him through the storm.

Meanwhile, Edmond, the son of Gloucester, resents his illegitimate status and tricks Gloucester with a forged letter, making him believe that his legitimate son, Edgar, plans to usurp his estate. So now there is another father who has disowned his good offspring in favor of a conniving, evil one. When Lear meets Gloucester, who has tragically lost his eyes, on account of his evil son Edmond, he says, wisely, “A man may see how this world goes with no eyes. Look with thine ears: see how yond justice rails upon yon simple thief. Hark, in thine ear: change places; and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?”

How will it end for these two men, joined in tragic circumstances and finally wiser, but none the better? Perhaps this drama has been played out in many-a-life. At the peak of life, as one plans for the declining years ahead, it is perhaps with an over-inflated ego and an exaggerated sense of one’s accomplishments? Will an exaggerated sense of past accomplishments lead to arrogant, rash, and foolish choices? As in the case of Gloucester, are important decisions at this stage often based on irrational paranoia, and a false sense of one’s strength? Or are plans for future years often based on ego pandering as in the case of Lear? George Bernard Shaw wrote, “No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.”  I doubt you can see it better performed, at a better venue, than at Sanborn Park in Saratoga. Contact for details.

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