Tag: Steven Pringle
The real King Lear
|Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents|
|The Madness of George III|
|Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropulos
at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map)
thru June 12 | tickets: $44-$75 | more info
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer
Talk about life imitating art. Like the fictional King Lear of Shakespeare’s harshest imagination, in the late 18th century King George III of the troubled House of Hanover descended into madness, then briefly emerged from it as he realized that a king is mortal and that others have suffered as much as he. He too had vicious offspring: two sons – the fat and foolish Prince of Wales, later George IV, and the foppish Duke of York – were every bit as ungrateful as Goneril and Regan (and he had no Cordelia to redeem the curse). George was temporarily “cured” by a tough-love regimen: A monarch who had never been contradicted in his life was restrained by strait-jackets and strapped to a chair like a thief in a pillory. If not worse, the treatment was as vicious as the malady.
If Lear’s story is tragic, George’s is pathetic, so great is the gulf between his real illness (porphiria, a medical and not a mental degenerative disease) and the neo-medieval physicians who think the solution is just a question of bloodletting, poultices, and a daily inspection of the chamberpot. It’s too easy to say that George was unhinged by the ingratitude of his American subjects in daring to revolt—or that his peace of mind was subverted by parliamentary plots hatched by his enemies the Whigs (under the unscrupulous Charles Fox). (The government’s Tories, under William Pitt, were not above exploiting the addlepated king as he forfeited control over almost all his functions and functionaries.) His was a classic case of hubris: The body’s conditional state betrayed the monarch’s absolute power.
Alan Bennett’s much-praised 1991 dramatization of this unpleasantness (made into Nicholas Hytner’s superb 1994 film with Nigel Hawthorne as the humbled king) recalls Thomas Hogarth’s most vicious caricatures: It conjures up a dysfunctional dynasty as fraught with friction as any family and a political circus in which Whigs and Tories behave just as badly as our bad boys do in 2011, not 1785.
Penny Metropulos’ all-engrossing staging is a marvel of perpetual motion. Its energy is coiled and concentrated in Tony-nominee Harry Groener’s piledriving performance in the dual title role (the madness as much as the king). In this awesome fall from grace we watch the symbol of the then-world’s greatest empire lose authority as he does his bowels, brain and locomotion. The well-named Groener makes us feel his pain in each particular (and Bennett is nothing if not graphic in his depiction of a body breaking down).
The king’s sole help comes from Ora Jones’ magnificent Queen Charlotte, George’s fearlessly loyal, unjustly neglected wife, his faithful equerries (Kevin Gudahl and Erik Hellman), and his principled and frustrated prime minister (Nathan Hosner). All do legion work above and beyond every theatrical expectation.
As devious as the disease that wracks the king, Richard Baird plays his heir with odious opportunism, matched by Alex Weisman as his corrupt and corpulent younger brother. David Lively’s Lord Chancellor is amusingly caught in the crossfire between both factions, while the four doctors (Brad Armacost, Patrick Clear, William Dick and James Newcomb) display a cornucopia of ignorance that Moliere would envy.
The near-three hours fly by as pell-mell conflicts ebb and seethe under William Bloodgood’s immense Palladian portico. Its most telling moment is when a recovering George experiences the only good treatment he received: He plays a dying King Lear, suddenly realizing that another man wrote about and an imaginary one felt his plight. That, of course, was to know how powerless you are when fate toys with you and your own body turns on you worse than any enemies could imagine. You feel like a voyeur as you watch this scatological and scandalous story unfold, but you can’t take your eyes away for an instant.
Strong intentions elevate predictable stereotypes
Who steals my purse steals trash; ‘tis something, nothing; ‘
Twas mine, ‘tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
–Iago, Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155-161
|Canamac Productions presents|
|Written by Todd Logan
Directed by Richard Shavzin
at various church locations, Evanston
through November 7 | tickets: $20 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
Todd Logan designed his world premiere play, Defamation, to be staged at various church locations in Evanston–the better to provoke conversation about where we are about race and class today. Richard Shavzin directs this courtroom drama in which the Chicago area forms the template for all relations between its characters.
Regina Wade (Jacquie Coleman) is a tough African-American businesswoman, raised in Lawndale, preferring to reside in Bronzeville, who sues prominent realtor Arthur Golden (Bernard Beck), a wealthy resident of Winnetka, for the downfall of her business, due to his public accusations that she had stolen his heirloom watch. Both parties, through their lawyers, never deviate from their cross-accusations of each other. The audience must vote after closing arguments on who has made their case.
But does the audience vote on the case or on the racial dynamic put so clearly before them? It’s difficult to say, since Logan’s text gives them plenty of room for doubt. Ms. Wade might have lost her business because Golden slandered her among mutual clients. Or she might have lost her business due to another fiercely competitive company that undersold her products and services. Golden may have lost or misplaced his watch or it perhaps it has been stolen by someone else, but his unfamiliarity with a black woman in his own environment may have led him to think of her as the primary suspect. Logan allows ambiguity to rule. Instead of being a courtroom drama that unravels mystery and establishes the truth, the audience is left with their own conjectures over who did what and why.
As a source for discussion, the play is solid and enjoyable. It’s cast is strong, the acting personable, the direction simple and to the point. If all who show up are just the post-Obama crowd, who think that African Americans now have nothing left to complain about, then Defamation makes for good social tonic.
However, as drama, Defamation relies excessively on stereotype. Complete with a crotchety old judge, showboating lawyers, and a rich realtor more Jewish than Jesus, Defamation’s characters emerge direct from central casting. The production hangs on just as fiercely to that relatively new American stereotype, the Strong Black Woman.
In fact, one could re-name this play “The Battle of the Strong Black Women,” since the racial game played in the court pits Golden’s lawyer Ms. Allen (Shariba Rivers) and lawyer-witness Lorraine Jordan (Demetria Thomas) against Ms. Wades’ claims to innocence. Not that I don’t enjoy watching strong black women duke it out with each other, and these three actresses definitely give good dramatic conflict, but theirs is a battle that gives more heat than light.
Furthermore, it’s a game in which no one is fooled. Everyone knows Mr. Golden has hired a black woman as his lawyer to defeat any allegation of racism or sexism. Everyone knows Ms. Wade’s white lawyer, Mr. Lawton (Steven Pringle), has probably been hired for a similar reason. Racism has become all too predictable in American culture; likewise, defenses against racism emerge predictably. Sadly, that level of stale predictability dooms Defamation to being an interesting exercise, but not something that awakens and enlightens its audience—either to a more nuanced racial dynamic today or to a way out of our present racial malaise.