Prenzie Players Present
Show Dates: 2014
Friday, April 4th at 8:00pm
Saturday, April 5th at 8:00pm
Sunday, April 6th at 2:00pm
Thursday, April 10th at 8:00pm
Friday, April 11th at 8:00pm
Saturday, April 12th at 8:00pm SOLD OUT
One of the “Big Five Shakespearean Tragedies” Lear tells the tale of an aging monarch who gives up her throne and splits it among her three children, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. When Cordelia refuses to flatter Lear, Cordelia is banished. As time goes on, Lear begins to realize that she has banished the wrong child, as Regan and Goneril’s greed and lust for power begin to tear Lear’s world apart. Lear will be directed by JC Luxton.
Doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain. Tickets: $10 and are available at the door, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone (309) 278-8426 or purchase tickets at the link above. Seating is limited. LEAR Contains adult content.
Queen Lear of Britain
Countess of Gloucester
Fool to Queen Lear
Prince Cordelia, son of Queen Lear
Edmund, bastard daughter to Gloucester
Prince Regan, son of Queen Lear
Dame Morgan, knight of Queen’s Guard
Queen of France
Dame Cundah, knight of Queen’s Guard
Princess of Burgundy
Dame Glamorgan, knight of Queen’s Guard
Prince Goneril, son of Queen Lear
Duke of Burgundy
Sir Baldad, knight of Queen’s Guard
Curan, a servant
Duchess of Albany
Sarah Ade Wallace
Oswald, handmaid to Albany
Duchess of Cornwall
Edgar, legitimate daughter to Gloucester
Countess of Kent
Prenzie bends genders in new take on ‘Lear’
By Jonathan Turner, email@example.com
In Prenzie Players’ second season, when Cait Bodenbender, of Rock Island, directed the classic William Shakespeare tragedy “Hamlet,” she offhandedly remarked that she wished the roles could be gender-reversed so she could play the Danish prince.
Prenzie director JC Luxton, of Iowa City, took that idea to heart, and 10 years later is bringing another titanic royal tragedy from the Bard of Avon to the local stage, with Ms. Bodenbender playing the title role in “Lear.”
“It is not an easy show to pull off,” she said recently of one of Shakespeare’s most terrifying and challenging plays. “I wanted to play the role because it’s hard. JC and I share kind of this desire to stretch ourselves past what’s comfortable, what we know we can do. It’s a perfect project for both of us. Hard as being Lear is, to get in Lear’s head, I think JC’s job is harder.”
Based on “King Lear” (penned between 1603 and 1606), this “Lear” will be performed at QC Theatre Workshop in Davenport with all roles cross-cast (male roles played by women and vice versa) except the Fool.
It tells the tale of an elderly royal (80 in the original text, but will be about 60 here) who gives up the throne and splits it among three heirs, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia (in this version portrayed as sons). When Cordelia refuses to flatter Lear, Cordelia is banished. As time goes on, Lear begins to realize that she banished the wrong child, as Regan and Goneril’s greed and lust for power tear Lear’s world apart.
Ms. Bodenbender had lead roles in Prenzie’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Measure for Measure.” She also was in “Henry V” and “Cymbeline,” and directed the company’s “Hamlet” and “Merchant of Venice.”
“There are things about being a woman that actually bring the role closer to what Shakespeare intended,” she said of “Lear.” When he was writing, “there was a cultural sentimentality around fatherhood; fathers were revered,” in the way mothers have been over the past century, Ms. Bodenbender said.
“Fatherhood was this kind of elevated status in the way motherhood is now. So having a woman play Lear, JC is trying to create that cultural context for the audience,” she said. “There’s more a sense of outrage about the cruelty; the way that Lear treats her children is more of a shock if it’s a mother.”
Even trying to play 60 has its own challenges, since Ms. Bodenbender is a 38-year-old mother of two (ages 7 and 2).
The difference in not being frail and elderly “makes Lear a little less sympathetic from the onset,”
she said. “To have a Lear that is quite frail, you immediately identify the behavior of the children as wrong. They should be taking care of Lear. With a 60-year-old, there’s more a sense of power yet around the character. The children’s behavior is somewhat more understandable to a certain degree, but it’s still awful.”
Being a mother herself also “adds dimension and depth to the role,” Ms. Bodenbender said. “I can extrapolate to the connection I have to my children.” Plus, the death of Cordelia at the end is especially hard, given Ms. Bodenbender has experienced the death of a child.
After a full-term pregnancy (before the birth of her two kids), she had a stillborn child. “That helped to inform my experience with the end of the show,” she said.
It’s such a great play because of Shakespeare’s language, Ms. Bodenbender said.
“It’s so beautiful, when you read it, it is so powerfully moving,” she said. “It’s one of his greatest works regarding language and drama. It is a hard one to set on stage — there is such almost complete destruction,” with the death of many main characters, but also “moments of great hope, that things are going to work out.”
“You end up feeling so connected to the characters, it’s a little devastating,” Ms. Bodenbender said. “This is Shakespeare at his darkest. Every play after this one is a retreat from that darkness. It’s also a shiny, beautiful darkness. Even though it’s horrible, it’s satisfying.”
“You can immediately believe she’s a queen,” Mr. Luxton said of his star. “With really good actors, especially in callbacks, she would just enter a scene and everybody else in the scene would become a better actor — because you have an extremely talented person concentrating, working so hard.”
Even though the roles are gender-switched, he’s not altering the basic characteristics of these parts.
“Nothing about the personality of the character’s actions, nothing substantial is actually being changed,” Mr. Luxton said. “Kent is now a lady that disguises herself as a ruffian servant to serve her queen. There’s a quality of nobility, and rough-and-tumble street tough. It happens to be it’s an actress instead of an actor.”
“The most challenging thing, having seen many productions of ‘Lear’ in the past, you have to kind of erase all your expectations of the part,” he said, noting that his Lear will not start as an old, frail monarch, but the story itself will shock her into more advanced age and weakness.
Having directed Shakespeare has helped Ms. Bodenbender with the language and “my ability to keep an eye of the whole arc of my character in relation to where other characters are,” she said. “We create situations that feel real, we all know.”
“Before I directed, I paid less attention to that, more to what my character was doing,” she said. “I’m more giving and connected to the other actors around, how much more richness that brings to me and the play in general.”
Prenzie unleashes thunderous tempest in Lear
By Jonathan Turner
The volcanic fury unleashed by the incomparable Cait Bodenbender as the tormented queen in Prenzie Players’ “Lear” is no match for the Shakespearean tempest of thunder and lightning at the tragedy’s core.
A frequent Prenzie director and actor, Ms. Bodenbender blazes with intelligence, rage, confusion and sadness in this breathtaking roller coaster of a tale. Based on “King Lear” (1603-1606), this “Lear” is performed with full-throated passion and intrigue with all roles cross-cast (male roles played by women and vice versa) except the Fool.
It tells of an aging British royal who gives up the throne and splits it among three heirs: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia (in this version portrayed as sons). When Cordelia refuses to flatter Lear like his falsely fawning siblings, Cordelia is banished. As time goes on, Lear begins to realize she banished the wrong child, as Regan and Goneril’s greed and lust for power tear Lear’s world apart.
Unable to believe her conniving children are betraying her, Lear slowly goes insane. The scene where Ms. Bodenbender wanders on a heath during a thunderstorm is simply spectacular and helps make this the most technically ambitious and impressive play in Prenzie’s 12-year history.
There are affecting sound and lighting effects throughout — assembled by sound designer Elizabeth Spoerl and lighting designer Tyson Danner, supported by first-ever Prenzie grants from the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend and Moline Foundation.
Visionary director JC Luxton puts an indelible, innovative stamp on this staggering, mesmerizing work, with strong commitment from an enthusiastic 15-member cast — 11 of whom are women.
In their capable hands, the original characters retain their personality, as the women become more masculine and men more feminine. Despite the centrality of Lear’s children to the story, I thought they seemed the weakest links. While Cordelia is off-stage much of the play, the actor often doubles as the Fool (crazy jester to Lear) — as is done well here. The childlike, exuberant Fool is embodied by Prenzie newcomer Andrew Bruning.
A horrifying highlight of the story is the fate of Gloucester, whose scheming illegitimate daughter, Edmund, tricks her into believing that his legitimate child, Edgar, is trying to kill him. Fleeing the manhunt, Edgar disguises herself as a tattered, crazy beggar — portrayed with tenacious energy and zeal by Maggie Woolley.
She throws herself full throttle (as she is so good at) into the role, and has an intense duel with Edmund, who’s a traitor and liar, and one of several villains here. Stephanie Burrough plays Edmund with icy precision as the cold, calculating, manipulative seductress she is, hungry for power.
When Gloucester — played touchingly by Jen Brown — realizes Lear’s children have turned against her, she tries to help the queen. In a frightening scene of raw torture, Regan (Jarrod DeRooi) and his wife, Cornwall (Beth Woolley) accuse Gloucester of treason, gouge out her eyes, and leave her to wander the countryside.
A chilling sight is when Regan and Cornwall kiss as Gloucester’s head is plunged and held underwater. Another captivating scene is in total darkness, between Gloucester and Edgar, after Gloucester is blinded, to make us feel that same feeling, for three full minutes. It’s a clever, meaningful touch by Mr. Luxton that brings us closer to Gloucester.
A confusing moment for the audience occurs around Gloucester’s blinding, as an “audience member” bounds onto the stage exclaiming something along the lines of “This is freaking agonizing,” and takes up a sword to duel, wearing modern clothes.
Mr. Luxton said later this is in the original, where out of nowhere one of the servants pulls a sword. “In a way, that random servant is speaking for the audience,” the director said. “In all of Shakespeare, nothing is as disturbing as the blinding of Gloucester. It’s kind of an audience wish come to life. Rather than a servant, he expresses the outrage of the audience.”
It kind of expressed my overall feeling, as “Lear” is a complex, difficult play to follow, especially given the Elizabethan language.
Maggie Woolley (a Prenzie veteran) said later the genius of Shakespeare is because “it’s just that rich.” You do need to see it more than once to fully appreciate it, let alone comprehend it.
“If you’re new to Shakespeare, it can feel overwhelming,” she said. “The more you do it, the more familiar you become with the language, and the more you have a fundamental understanding of what’s being said. Shakespeare is incredible.”
I look at Shakespeare as similar to opera — which usually is in a foreign language. Like most opera, and most Prenzie (which specialize in the Bard), there is such heightened emotion that even if you don’t grasp every plot turn and motivation, you can feel it. Like opera, it’s another language, but you can appreciate the music of the text and how it is expertly sung.
With mirrors at the edges of the set at QC Theatre Workshop, many references to sight, and a brief nude scene, “Lear” is all about how people see themselves, reveal themselves and see others, Mr. Luxton said.
The shock of Cordelia’s death at the end (hung offstage by a captain Edmund hired) is also in Lear’s survival, the worst of all possible worlds, the director said — to see your child die.
Mr. Luxton said Shakespeare “never goes this far in any other play” in terms of tragedy and brutality. “But the play itself is so beautiful. That itself is something. There’s not total despair. Lear learns to love, though she loses what she loves.
QC Times Preview
by David Burke
It’s tempting to call the Prenzie Players’ “Lear” the 11-year-old company’s “greatest hits” performance.
Many of the experiments the company has conducted in presenting classic theater return here, thanks to director J.C. Luxton and the cast. That includes an extended nude scene, a planted audience member jumping into an action segment, some far-too-realistic torture, in-the-round seating and staging that’s a little too close for audience comfort levels, and elements of sci-fi and industrial motifs.
The most evident change in “Lear” is that its royal title character is female, not male, and nearly all of the characters were written for the opposite gender.
As a whole, the experiment works. Cait Bodenbender’s Queen Lear commands respect from those onstage, but what should have been her more forceful deliveries were dulled by a penchant to raise her volume to show force. From Shakespeare’s time until now, some of the most intimidating characters have been forceful without raising their decibel levels.
Her most intimidating moment, at least at Friday’s opening night, appeared to be unplanned. As a patron’s cellphone rang during one of Lear’s most vicious monologues, Bodenbender tacked on, “And turn that damned thing off!”
While the peak moments from Bodenbender, in a smartly fitting white wig, weren’t as forceful as they could have been, her character’s descent into madness was noticeable and memorable.
Instead of King Lear spreading his wealth over three daughters, Queen Lear doles hers out among three sons. Slightly more ornate costumes among those sons, played by Cole McFarren, Jarrod DeRooi and Andrew Bruning, are the only noticeable differences among them. When late-night bedroom activities are broken up among the spouses, DeRooi’s Regan drapes a shawl around his naked upper half, while a less-dressed Beth Woolley, as Regan’s wife Hinnine, makes no attempt to hide her lack of clothing.
Among the women, Denise Yoder has the best cocky swagger as Countess Perillus, while Maggie Woolley and Stephanie Burrough put all of their machismo into a sword-and-knife fight while playing sisters.
Besides playing the youngest son, Bruning plays a fey, irritating jester who doesn’t even attempt to stretch entendres from singles into doubles, using everything from his line reading to a certain piece of his costume.
Another noteworthy performance comes from Jen Brown as the countess of Gloucester, the victim of torture that gives the appearance of being as agonizing as it is painful.
It seems at times as though Luxton and the cast are throwing as many different innovations at audiences as they can handle, occasionally seeming heavy-handed. Although Luxton went through the script line by line to change the Shakespeare version to the appropriate gender, some cuts should have taken place as well. With intermission, “Lear” weighed in at about three hours and 15 minutes on its opening night.
Shakespeare fans who want a different take on one of the Bard’s most arduous classics will get their fill from “Lear,” although some may find the journey a bit long.
QC Times Review
The Prenzie Players are making the mother of all changes when their take on “King Lear” opens next weekend.
From the title character on down, all of the male characters in the Shakespeare play will be played by women and vice versa, except for the jester.
“All of the pronouns have been changed, and all of the references to fathers are now to mothers and daughters are to sons,” director J.C. Luxton said. “If you had never heard of this play before and you went, you wouldn’t know that anything had happened.”
Prenzie has changed the title to simply “Lear.”
Artistic director Cait Bodenbender, who plays Queen Lear, said she and Luxton have talked about the idea of “cross-casting” one of Shakespeare’s works for nearly nine years.
“I was talking about how much I wanted to do ‘Hamlet’ and said that we should do a cross-cast ‘Hamlet’ so a woman could get to say all those great words,” she said.
Luxton said he leaned more toward “Lear” because he’d never been satisfied with what he’d seen onstage compared with Shakespeare’s script.
“I remember having this overwhelming sense of grandeur and of the sublime, which I’ve never completely experienced when I’ve seen any version of it,” he said. “Every time it was put up, I felt there was something missing, no matter how good it was in other ways. It never captured the experience of it on a page.”
Luxton also said that Lear’s relationship to his daughters was a mirror of the way a king was viewed by his subjects.
“He (Shakespeare) just assumed his audience would have that attitude, but those attitudes are very different in our day. We don’t have a strong sense of sentimentality about fatherhood anymore,” Luxton added.
The director “massaged the script for months and months,” doing more than just changing pronouns, yet keeping the pace and alliteration intact.
“You still have to respect the meter, you still have to respect poetry,” he said.
Bodenbender said the Prenzie actresses are especially excited about the adjustment.
“Shakespeare has some great female characters that women get to play, but there’s no equivalent to Lear,” she said. “It’s exciting to think about getting to use that language and try to embody it.”
A change in body language was also in order.
“We had to think long and hard about how women’s behaviors address change when they’re in charge,” she said. “It’s been kind of fun to ‘masculine’ our movements a little bit and take up more space and walk in a more demanding way than the way we might be usually.”
Actors, she said, had to play roles in a more subservient fashion than they would otherwise.
Her only regret, Bodenbender said, is not allowing some of Prenzie’s veteran actors take on one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles.
“I would love to see Aaron Sullivan’s ‘Lear,’ and he is not going to do that this time,” she said. “But he’s helping out. He’s not sore about it.”
Queen B.: “Lear,” at the QC Theatre Workshop through April 12
River Cities Reader review
by Thom White
It doesn’t take long for Cait Bodenbender, in the Prenzie Players’ Lear, to prove that director/adapter J.C. Luxton’s idea to reverse his characters’ genders was a great one.
Bodenbender’s Queen Lear, in the first act, has her authoritative presence furthered by the alto tones of her booming voice. This is a woman clearly in charge as she divvies up her kingdom amongst her sons: Cole McFarren’s convincingly sincere Prince Goneril, Jarrod DeRooi’s conniving dandy Prince Regan, and Andrew Bruning’s confident, regal Prince Cordelia, whose speech of expressed love for his mother is mistaken by the queen, and he is denied any land to rule. (This scene unfolds with even more drama thanks to Tyson Danner’s lighting design, which includes a large map projected onto the floor in the midst of deep shadows, creating an ominous air.)
If the first act of Shakespeare’s tragedy wasn’t enough to convince Friday’s audience that Bodenbender’s casting was justified, her second act certainly did the trick; as Lear descends into rage-fueled madness, Bodenbender unleashes her queen’s inner turmoil with fearsome abandon. The way she runs about the stage (which is set up in the middle of the playing space, with the audience seated along two-and-a-half sides of it), and around the audience, had me on edge with nervousness – especially when, at one point, she shrieks and lifts up her burlap sack of a dress. Once again, Danner’s lighting punctuates this scene, supporting Bodenbender’s tumultuously physical and vocal wrath with flashes of painfully piercing white light, representing the storm during which Lear rants about the ungratefulness of sons Goneril and Regan after their true natures and lack of love are revealed. (Maggie Woolley impressively matches Bodenbender’s madness while scantily clad as Edgar, particularly following his disinheritance from his mother, Jen Brown’s stately Countess of Gloucester.)
In addition to portraying Cordelia, the son that truly loves Lear most, Bruning also plays the queen’s fool, altering his baritone voice to a higher-pitched, lighter cadence for Shakespeare’s clown. (Personally speaking, it’s actually Luxton’s portrayal of the fool in Genesius Guild’s 1996 presentation of King Lear that may forever be my benchmark for the role; his remarkable performance is inked indelibly in my mind.) Bruning attacks the role with a sharp silliness and clear baseness, enhanced by costume designer Kate Farence’s inclusion of a purple dildo attached at his waist. As I listened to Bruning deliver his barbs at Lear during his initial scene, I pondered how the fool seems a lot like a drag queen, what with Bruning’s foppish approach to the role and the humorously stinging jabs he takes at the royal. And Luxton seems to have thought the same thing, as Bruning appears in the next act dressed in a purple wig and an outfit in the style of a jester’s costume. (The drag-queening of Bruning’s character appears to be how Luxton gender-bends this role, as his fool is played by a male, as is customary.)
The decision to make female the character of Edmund – now a bastard daughter with potential claims to Lear’s land – is much more clearly presented. At one point, Stephanie Burrough enters the stage in nothing but a towel, as if fresh from a shower. And when Edmund describes herself with, “When my dimensions are as well compact, my mind as generous, and my shape as true …”, there’s something about Burrough’s confidence, the pools of dim light in which she stands, and the placement of a couple of mirrors at the edges of the performance space that transforms the scene from perceived gratuitousness to art, as if we were watching a living sculpture.
Costumer Farence’s finest work, in my estimation, lies in the ensemble Denise Yoder wears as the Countess of Kent prior to being banished by Lear. Her floor-length, purple, velvet gown with draped collar is accented with a sword belt and gray bolero jacket that’s modern in material and cut. The apparel manages to blend period and present-day styles as well as masculine and feminine looks, creating a physical embodiment of Luxton’s decision to mix up the genders in his play. And on the opposite end of such beauty is the grotesque way in which Luxton depicts the removal of Gloucester’s eyes at the hands of Prince Regan and his wife, Beth Woolley’s commanding, subversively evil Duchess of Hinnine of Cornwall. As Cornwall gouges out Gloucester’s orbs, Woolley releases squirts of red that spray out from, and run down, Brown’s face, and the moment is effectively repulsive – as are whatever items were used to create the eyeballs which end up on the stage floor (and which, unfortunately, remained there through the rest of Friday’s presentation).
Unremoved props aside, there’s not much else I disliked – if there was anything else I disliked – about the Prenzie Players’ Lear. Luxton’s production is like no other presentation of Shakespeare’s masterpiece I’ve seen (this being my third), and not only for his choice to swap genders. While well acted by the entire cast, it’s the aforementioned touches that will leave their marks on me, making this my new favorite presentation of the King Lear material.