Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lear is coming...

As Lear's Last prepares for its opening next week at the Bailiwick Director's Festival, we take a look at Paul Edwards' commentary on the piece in its initial presentation in 2002.

In his famous mid-60s essay "King Lear or Endgame," Jan Kott invokes the image of a tragic hero playing a game against an electronic computer that he can't ever hope to win:
The absurdity does not consist in the fact that man-made mechanisms are in certain conditions stronger, and even wiser, than he. The absurdity consists in the fact that they create a compulsory situation by forcing him to a game in which the probability of his total defeat constantly increases. [. . .] When established values have been overthrown, and there is no appeal, to God, Nature, or History, from the tortures inflicted by the cruel world, the clown becomes the central figure in the theatre. [. . . I]f the gods, and their moral order, do not exist, Gloucester's suicide does not solve or alter anything. It is only a somersault on an empty stage. [. . .] It is waiting for a Godot who does not come.

And so on. Kott proceeds to invoke a range of intertexts, [sic] from Job to Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Endgame. What he writes was so central to Peter Brook's vision in the King Lear film that Kott's essay is almost a skeleton key to that film. [Murray] was moving into the same waters, but somehow I found your approach much more compelling than rereading Kott's essay.

What really moved me was [Lear’s] "warming up" for a soliloquy that fell apart as it was being uttered. For one thing, it was a symptom of King Lear fatigue, the quality that Kott describes in the beginning of his essay:
The attitude of modern criticism to King Lear is ambiguous and somehow embarrassed. Doubtless King Lear is still recognized as a masterpiece, beside which even Macbeth and Hamlet seem tame and pedestrian. [. . .] but at the same time King Lear gives one the impression of a high mountain that everyone admires, yet no one particularly wishes to climb. It is as if the play [. . .] were out of place in our time, or, at any rate, had no place in the modern theatre. But the question is: what is modern theatre?

And of course he proceeds to try to answer the question. Your answer was to dissolve the relevance of big-voiced, orotund "elocution": the kind of vocalization that the passions of King Lear seem to require. We can no longer be those subjects, precisely because we cannot speak those speeches – at least not without feeling like "actors." Dysfunctional behavior somehow seems more authentic to us than ultra-competent, room-filling declamation. I found myself identifying powerfully with the experience represented. I forgot that I was watching a pastiche: all the language belonged to the experience of the characters in scene, even when I understood that it was being quoted by those characters.

What does this all mean? Find out:
Lear's Last
June 23-25
Bailiwick Repertory Theatre

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