Shakespeare’s Globe Lensic Performing Arts Center, Oct. 30
Since it opened in London in 1997, the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe has explored the Bard’s plays through the prism of the performance practices of his day in a theater of Elizabethan design. In 2007, the company expanded its activities to include worldwide touring, and on Oct. 30 it landed for the first time in Santa Fe, presenting King Lear on the stage of the Lensic Performing Arts Center, courtesy of Performance Santa Fe. An introductory essay in the printed program offered a comment that was startling and to the point: “It is difficult for people to remember that English theatre used to be about touring and nothing else. Before the construction of the Rose and the Globe [at the end of the 16th century] all our dramatic experiences were about companies trucking up to strange towns, and performing in inn yards, in churches, in guildhalls, in fairs and at any other number of strange venues under the canopy of the sky.”
The production the company trucked up to our strange town was cleverly crafted, eminently portable, and scarcely what audiences expect of King Lear. The set did indeed evoke a hastily erected construction, its rough-hewn wooden planks suggesting an interior room with a second usable level on the roof, some of its parts easily reassembled to imply new locations. Costumes were unremarkable, and director Bill Buckhurst was happy to revisit cost-efficient clichés of stage representation if they were useful, like having actors shake a sheet to depict wind. Though shorn of anything spectacular, the physical presentation was honest and sincere.
The production conveyed something of the company’s goal to recapture the populist spirit of Shakespeare-era theater. Actors strolled the aisles and conversed with attendees at the outset while a cast member entertained with accordion tunes from the stage; elsewhere, they played melodies on a variety of instruments and joined together for songs. The thespians accentuated the broad vulgarity of the play’s comedic moments (which seemed here more numerous than one might have predicted), and they delivered its ghastly violence with what seemed a knowing wink.
The dramatis personae of King Lear lists 20 parts (not counting miscellaneous attendants, knights, and so on), but here that was reduced to 16 roles handled by just eight actors. Blocking was planned with choreographic precision, and the same must have been true behind the set, as actors transformed themselves into various characters in the blink of an eye. The single point at which one actor doubling multiple parts had to be on the stage in two roles at once — it was Daniel Pirrie as Edmund and Oswald — became a comical turn involving leaping back and forth across the stage while changing hats. The acting troupe was generally well matched, the gentlemen on the whole outshining the ladies. (The company’s aspirations to authenticity do not extend to banning women from the stage.) The title role is central to defining this play’s flavor, to be sure, and it cannot be said that Joseph Marcell devised a Lear for the ages. His voice was gravelly rather than sonorous, and he was given to barking that admitted rather little nuance. Yet the flavor of the production overall was specific, unaccustomed, consistent, and ultimately affecting. This swift-flowing, up-tempo rendition knocked King Lear off its venerable pedestal without showing disrespect.
— James M. Keller