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October 7, 2014 | Theatre,

In the Room with Lear

There is a beautiful serendipity to the pairing of productions in our season that is created through the simple necessity of the calendar. Productions that might not otherwise seem connected to each other suddenly dive into conversation by virtue of proximity. And so now we join in on a conversation between les 7 doigts de la main and Shakespeare’s Globe.

The artists of Traces explore the connections we seek with each other – through dazzling physical pyrotechnics, they vault into the ruthless human need to push through the noise and clutter of modern life and exist for the moment with each other in the same space. The players of Shakespeare’s Globe explore a different kind of connection with their audience, and use that connection to change the course of the conversation about their work.

For some reason, we live in a culture that is in near constant conversation with King Lear. Over the past few years, audiences have had the opportunity to explore high profile productions with John Lithgow, Christopher Plummer, Frank Langella, Ian McKellen, Alvin Epstein and Simon Russell Beale in the central role. And yet, with all the abundance, we still need and relish opportunities to connect with this piece.

King Lear is often looked at through the lens of Lear himself – the father who confuses declaration for truth and loses his family, his power and his reality. Seen in this light, the play is the journey of one man’s experience – an experience that steps out of the personal toward the universal, but is still deeply rooted in the psychology of the king. In Lear, Shakespeare has created a troubling and touching portrait of a man no longer at the height of his powers whose deterioration reverberates out into his kingdom until even the elements echo his loss and rage. It is indeed a compelling story –  one that echoes more and more in our culture as we live longer and longer.


Shakespeare’s Globe engages us in a different and perhaps even more compelling conversation – one that is rooted in the world which the players create for us through their approach to the work.

The experience of sharing the room with the players of Shakespeare’s Globe is that of being an active participant in the play – of being in direct conversation with the characters onstage. The company pursues a style that reflects what the playing of the plays would have been when they were first produced – welcome to Shakespeare with the lights on. We are here, in this room, right now and with these actors and each other, to explore the play together. We may be drafted to scheme with Edmund. Our imaginations will be immediately engaged as we create a blasted heath, or see the cliff where Gloucester and Edgar stand. And from this experience, we are able to expand ourselves into a conversation with King Lear that goes beyond the purely privately personal.

As citizens of this event, we are called upon to think about the politics of it – what are the responsibilities of a leader to his state? What happens when a body like the state is fractured – how must that play out in civilization? It is that initial decision – the first words out of Lear’s mouth – that launches this play into motion, and it is our role to work through this with the artists.

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