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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

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