Feeling Lear-y: 4Q’s with a Kingmaker
Rubicon Theatre Company (RTC) is making no bones about comparing Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear to the current American president. “Timely and trenchant,” the press release states, “Lear the story of a narcissistic ruler who craves adulation, casts out those who doubt his decisions, and neglects those on the fringes of society…. A haunting and epic saga of love, greed, family strife, and civil war.”
Rubicon co-founder James O’Neil directs the new production, which features a cast of 20, led by RTC company member George Ball, who has starred in previous Rubicon productions of All My Sons, Man of La Mancha, and Jacques Brel. We caught up with him last week before the show opens Saturday, March 17, for a two-week run. (Call 667-2900 or visit www.rubicontheatre.org.)
Q. Your Lear, George Ball, has never played the role before. Why was he right for you?
A. He has many sides, emotionally. He can be very forceful in his opinions, which is paramount to Lear, but also has a very soft and emotional side. Both of those aspects are inherent and apparent in the course of the play. The actor has to display a wide range of depth of emotion. George has it. He’s the right age, and he’s the kind of guy who physically looks like believably could be a king.
I’m curious about the setting in “a time before time” and using the “chorus” of cast members to improvise and help create the soundscape for what is happening in Lear’s mind during the famous storm scene when he goes mad.
I wanted to place it in a time that is fascinating to us but that we don’t know a lot about. So, I chose the stone circle – which appears all over the world, not just Stonehedge – a gathering place, a place of worship, one with a lot of mystery…. (In the storm scene) I’m using the homeless people because they have a connection in my mind to the physical world that is fantastical. They will help create the storm orally rather than using sound effects, or actual rain, which Lear speaks over. Here, they will make those sounds, and in a way have a conversation with him during that scene. So, they are the homeless people but also have a shamanic quality/connection to the earth in a fantastical way.
I have to mention that it’s an interesting time, politically, to present Lear, at least according to your publicist.
Well, we didn’t choose it knowing that the world was going to be like it is now. But what’s interesting is that Shakespeare and these great plays written 500 years ago are coming back around. They always do. Because the themes never leave us, unfortunately. We booked it for two years ago but had to postpone. It just so happens that we’re in a world politically where the themes turn out to be interesting, but really it’s just how humans are. Societies change in a very slow way. Perceptions and behaviors evolve very slowly…. We’re not in the barbaric times of Genghis Kahn, but that took thousands of years to work itself through.
Still, you must have some thoughts on lessons for today?
The biggest lesson is that it’s always left to the new generations to make a better world. How far one goes – like right now in how we treat women – or more generally in moving toward a more open or caring society, the old has to give way to the new. That’s what happens here. It’s left to the people who have gone through the civil war to pick up the pieces. The younger people hopefully acknowledge the cruelty of the past but also are aware of the contributions of their forebearers, however imperfect, and move toward creating a better world. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.