King Lear doesn’t disappoint
Published: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 01:10
When I first read Shakespeare's King Lear in April of this year, my instructor informed our class, "You'll either love it, or you'll hate it. I don't think there's any in-between."
My only knowledge of the tragedy consisted of it being a tragedy about a king and his three daughters. It's also one of the longer plays by Shakespeare. After reading it with Stanley Hauer, professor emeritus of English at USM, in the spring of 2011, it will forever be one of my favorite Shakespearean plays. Apparently, I am not alone in my sentiments toward this play or my gratitude for Dr. Hauer. He has been invited to host a pre-performance discussion at 1 p.m. on Sunday. It only makes sense that I would consult his perspective and opinion on USM's production of King Lear.
Q: Did you have any personal involvement in pushing for this production?
A: The director, Mr. Louis Rackoff, and I have been talking about it for years. He has been seriously considering it for two, and we have often discussed it over dinner. It's been in the works for several years. The trick is the title role.
Q: How so?
A: According the play, as most of us read it, King Lear is 80 years old. By the time you're 65 or above, you have the sense to play the part, but you no longer have the voice. We saw that, much to our deep regret, in the late Laurence Olivier film. He waited until just a few years before his death to make King Lear, and he's just too old. This King Lear, Mr. Kincaid, is a very good one, but he looks too young. There's just no getting around it. You go with the voice, and that was the trick in this production was to get the King Lear.
Q: I found his voice to be astoundingly powerful. I didn't even mind the age difference. What do you think?
A: His voice is so wonderful that, especially by the time you get to the third act, you don't care anymore. Dr. Hauer's insight into the difficulty of finding an effective actor to play King Lear was something I imbibed from him in his class. Upon learning of USM's pending production, I became excited and anxious to see if they were able to deliver a performance that did Shakespeare justice. Dr. Hauer has a delightful comparison that I could never top.
Q: How did you feel about USM's performance?
A: I think in many ways it's the most powerful I ever saw, and when you think that Anthony Hopkins was my first Lear, that's very high praise.
Q: I found the entire casting to be excellent, particularly Shelley Johnson, Lisa Fischel, and Elizabeth McCoy. They were all superb in their portrayals of Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, respectively. They all worked together to bring the issue of gender to the surface of the performance. Did you happen to pick up on that as well?
A: One of the good things, and bad things, about seeing a performance is a director must make a choice, and the reader doesn't have to make a choice. The reader can have it three or four different ways. The director must decide, for example, if Goneril and Regan are evil from the beginning or turn that way. The reader doesn't have to do that. So being a director's tough while being an English teacher is pretty easy by comparison.
Q: Whose idea was it for you to host a pre-performance discussion?
A: Unless I am mistaken, it was my colleague Professor Iglesias of the English department. I was deeply honored. When you're retired, there's a certain fear of being forgotten, and I was honored to be asked.
Q: We're honored to have you with us. What do you plan to discuss?
A: The talk is pretty much combination of what I say in class. It's sort of King Lear in me. As I began outlining these 20 minutes I began thinking, ‘I have taught King Lear over 65 times. And what have I learned from teaching King Lear 65 times?'. And that's what I'm going to talk about. There's nothing I have to say that will illuminate this play; it's all been said. But what I can do is tell you how it has illuminated me.
USM's Theatre department has achieved a highly difficult task with supreme simplicity and grace. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to view such a fine performance of a play that stretches beyond the boundaries of centuries of culture and literature to reach us here in today's world with the same issues of family, gender, and the human experience.
If this review was too vague to be convincing to see King Lear, here's a wonderful story courtesy of Dr. Hauer that may do the trick:
"It's actually about Dostoyevsky, but it applies to Shakespeare as well. Two old scholars were sitting in front of the fireplace, again they happen to be talking about one of Dostoyevsky's novels, and one of them said, ‘What d'you think it's all about?'. The other one took a long draw on his pipe and said, ‘Everything.' And I think that rather applies to King Lear. It's about everything."