king lear

ArtsWatch Weekly: The prints & the Oscars, big whale, Stupid Bird, Lear

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

That’s a print. No, we’re not talking about the movies, or the end of a scene shot, or Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, which we found fascinating on all sorts of levels, including the mostly successful tightrope that the host Chris Rock and his writers pranced so nimbly across, smiling and laughing as they took the ringmasters down a notch or two. It’s tough challenging the circus from inside the big tent, but points were made. The big question, of course, remains: what, if anything, will actually be done? In a way, the trouble is less a second year running of all-white acting nominations than the system that makes such an imbalance possible: a lack of great, good, and even middling roles for black and brown actors. The tendency to think of all roles as “white” roles unless the script specifies they are for  minority actors. Projects greenlighted with an eye on white audiences, and projects stopped in their tracks because they’re too “ethnic” to guarantee a hefty profit. And although the absence of black roles was the focus of protests, we also like what the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who won the Oscar for directing The Revenant, said in this morning’s New York Times: “The debate is not only about black and white people. We are yellow and Native Americans and Latin Americans.” And we are all of us stories, waiting to be told. If you’re running a story factory, you really ought to be aware of that.

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Bleak and bristling: Post5’s ‘Lear’

Led by Tobias Andersen's perfectly balanced imbalanced king, a strong cast gets the new-look company's newest season off to a flying start

Over the last 55 years, King Lear has been staged more times than in the first 355 years after it was written. Much of the interest in Lear was revived by Peter Brooks’s 1971 film adaptation, which took a haunting look into politics, conflict, rivalry, and homelessness, and revealed an almost unbearable wasteland of emotion in the face of growing old. Before this landmark black-and-white film, Lear was, for the most part, too bleak for audiences in its original form. The ending was altered after Shakespeare’s death with a centuries-early Hollywood happy ending. No more of that.

Like the play itself, Post5 has been changing, but it still begins its new season with the Bard – and with a Lear to remember.

Tobias Andersen as Lear: a rage upon the heath. Post5 Theatre photo

Tobias Andersen as Lear: a rage upon the heath. Photo: Carrie Anne Huneycutt

Tobias Andersen delivers his King Lear with a perfect balance of anger, regret, confusion, delirium, and torment. It takes stamina to bring this alive on stage. Andersen works into the monumental role with an even pacing that swings to a crescendo at the most important and famous of scenes, along with a few that are the focus of Post5’s production. He begins as an upright, square-shouldered regent. In the opening scene, when he asks his daughters who loves him the most, Andersen is severe with his demands. He has no grasp on the dominoes that begin to fall rapidly out of place. Andersen plays Lear as the real-life Celtic pagan king would have looked at the world, a victim of the fickle gods and circumstance. His descent into madness is less anxiety-provoking about how it will happen, and more the experience of watching a superb veteran actor unweave the tapestry of Lear’s mind.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Tragic love, Lear, art hop, film fest, all that jazz

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Not to give anything away, but it ends tragically. Maybe you’ve heard the tale: hot young guy, eager young miss, ardent passions, balcony scene, feuding families, stroke of violence, thwarted plan, poison potion, doom. Yes, it’s true: Romeo and Juliet‘s back in town. And not just any R&J, but James Canfield’s sumptuous ballet version. Canfield created it in 1989 for Pacific Ballet Theatre, and brought it with him to the new Oregon Ballet Theatre the following year when PBT and Ballet Oregon merged, and made it a mainstay of OBT’s repertory. It hasn’t been seen onstage here in more than fifteen years, since before Canfield and the OBT board parted ways abruptly in 2003, and Canfield’s work largely disappeared from town. Under artistic director Kevin Irving, OBT has been renewing the acquaintance, healing old wounds, and now one of Canfield’s signature pieces is back on the OBT stage at Keller Auditorium, opening Saturday and continuing through March 5. A little history is about to happen, and we’re not talking about the Shakespeare.

Ansa Deguchi and Brian Simcoe in James Canfield's "Romeo & Juliet" at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Ansa Deguchi and Brian Simcoe in James Canfield’s “Romeo & Juliet” at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

 


 

On the other hand, with this one we are talking about the Shakespeare. And about the multitalented Portland stage and screen veteran Tobias Andersen, who at the beginning of his ninth decade is crawling out on the heath in the title role of the great King Lear. This is in many ways the pinnacle role in Shakespeare’s plays (although that’s open to a lot of argument), even more so than Hamlet or Prince Hal or Prospero or Macbeth, all of whom will get votes, along with some of the comic characters like Falstaff and Beatrice and Benedick. Andersen opens on Friday night at Post5 Theater, and we expect some weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and, more to the point, a performer capable of diving deeply and profoundly into the tragedy. It continues through March 19.

 

Tobias Andersen as Lear: "You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout!" Photo: Russell J. Young

Tobias Andersen as Lear: “You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout!” Photo: Russell J. Young

 


 

Sunday, as you might have heard, will be the outpouring of the celebrity orgy that is the Academy Awards, and though it’s one of the most watched television spectacles on the planet, one of its dirty little secrets (it has quite a few) is that vast swaths of the broadcast audience won’t have seen most of the movies that are vying for statuettes. “I’ll catch it when it comes to Netflix,” people tell themselves, and then … well, where does the time go?

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Big Lear, little Lear: when size matters

Bag&Baggage's lean version in a big space and NW Classical's full version in a tiny space tell the long and short of Shakespeare's tale

Nearly a half-century ago, Pete Townshend wrote what must be one of the most frequently quoted of rock-song lyrics: “Hope I die before I get old.” That line has been cited ad nauseam as an uncritical pledge of allegiance to youth, as a self-imposed term limit on hipness. Pay attention to context of the song My Generation, though, and it’s clear that the line implies something else altogether – an ethical standard.

“Things they do look awful c-c-cold/I hope I die before I get old,” it goes, and the meaning is, “Hope I die before I get old and start acting like they do!”

Would that Goneril and Regan, those sharper-than-serpent-toothed sisters in King Lear, had adopted that attitude. The old man decides to kick back in royal retirement, and no sooner has he handed over his land and power than the daughters are surpassing him at self-serving callousness and caprice.

Maybe it’s just coincidence that it’s the youngest of Lear’s daughters, Cordelia, who shows a spirit of loving kindness and honesty. Then again, Dad always liked her best. Until, of course, she’s a bit too honest for her own good.

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Kevin Connell is Lear at Bag&Baggage. Casey Campbell Photography

Kevin Connell is Lear at Bag&Baggage. Casey Campbell Photography

So begins one of the most famous family feuds in all of the theatrical canon. The oft-told tale is onstage again in the Portland area, in two very different versions:  a radically revised yet historically rooted adaptation by Bag & Baggage, and a surefootedly faithful rendition by Northwest Classical Theatre Company.

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Dainichia Noreault and Tim Blough, rehearsal photo/David Kinder

Pushed, I’d have to say that “King Lear” is Shakespeare at his very greatest—I just don’t have the stomach for it sometimes. (The great Polish critic Jan Kott called it “a high mountain that everyone admires, yet no one  particularly wishes to climb.”) It reveals too much about my own conceit, blindness, failure, weakness. It captures my rank calculations and measurements. It mocks my defense, that I am more sinned against than sinning. It is horrible.

Which may be why it became so central to the 20th century (and yes, I suppose the 21st, too). It strips us down to a quivering jelly of madness, like Lear, where we alternately scream for the annihilation of the world and just a moment’s pity for ourselves.

The Portland Shakespeare Project and director Jon Kretzu (the associate artistic director of Artists Repertory Theatre) set their “Lear” in a nursing home, and its opening shudder into consciousness by an old man in a wheelchair is the beginning of an audacious gesture before Shakespeare’s play really begins.

The old man must have been dreaming Shakespeare, because he mutters, “Oh that this too solid flesh would melt away,” from “Hamlet,” but then he settles on Lear, mumbling the opening lines and calls for his map. It must be a frequent  dream because his daughters sitting around him respond when he asks them, “Which of you shall we say doth love us most…,” by stumbling over the first few lines of Goneril and Regan, before returning to their seats. They are playing along, but barely. The third sister, Cordelia, knits in her seat.

And then with a deep audible click from the offstage sound gods (meaning stage manager Tyler Ryan, I presume), the old man really is Lear, old but energetic, and we begin the play in earnest, though with this “meta” beginning, maybe we return to the old man’s dream because we spend the evening in his room, on and around his bed and a table filled with sheet cake, party favors and balloons that say, hilariously, “Happy Father’s Day.”

Dear Lear, This is NOT going to be a happy Father’s Day.

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