King Lear

Article excerpt

King Lear Presented by the Classical Theatre of Harlem at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. January 11-February 18, 2007. Directed by Alfred Preisser. Scenic design by Troy Hourie. Costumes by Kimberly Glennon. Lighting by Aaron Black. With Duane Allen (Burgundy), Jerome Preston Bates (Kent), Danyon Davis (Edgar), Andre DeShields (Lear), Chantal Jean Pierre (Goneril),Ty Jones (Edmund), Ian Lockhart (France), Shayshahn MacPherson (Musician), Francis Mateo (Cornwall), Christina Sajouo (Cordelia), Ken Schatz (Fool), Todd Scofield (Albany), Zuanna Sherman (Oswald), Deidra Le Wan Starnes (Regan), Harold Surratt (Gloucester), JJ Area (messenger), and others.

In conjunction with Washington D.C.'s six-month-long "Shakespeare in Washington" celebration and the Folger Shakespeare Library's 75th anniversary, the Folger Theatre presented King Lear, co-produced by the Classical Theatre of Harlem. Alfred Preisser reflected the Folger's theme this year, "Shakespeare in American Life," demonstrating the adaptability of Britain's national poet in America through the costumes, staging, and set design of a King Lear set in Mesopotamia and performed by a nearly all-black cast.

The bright colors and gold jewelry of Lear's royal court--as well as the ornate crown and apron that distinguished Lear as king--revealed, from the first scene, the play's Persian setting. (Interestingly, the Fool's costume, the only deviation from the Mesopotamian garb, was that of a traditional English court jester.) But as Lear, played by Andre DeShields, deteriorated through the play, so did the costumes. Toward the end of the play, the desolate Lear, reunited with Cordelia, also stripped of her former glory, wore rust-colored linen pants, a crown of raffia, and moss draped across his chest. At his lowest, Lear cast off his robe altogether and stood center stage naked (except for a g-string), beating his chest. Throughout the play, the focus on physique, not the costumes, seemed oddly appropriate to a play obsessed with nothing and (the nothingness of) excess.

Particular emphasis was placed on the physical and the audible in the story and in this adaptation specifically. The entire cast's athleticism was flaunted in the staging of this production. Edmund did back flips while crowing about his shape being "as true" as Edgar's. In his "thankless child" harangue, the already-histrionic Lear screamed at Cordelia as he was carried off the stage. Through the storm, Lear carried on his back the small but limber Fool, who occasionally somersaulted across stage or was lifted on the shoulders of other players. …