Saturday, 19 May 2012

This way sadness lies

The Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I came in from the brilliant and warm last Saturday of the Tulip Festival to the dark glowing interior of the Theatre in the National Arts Centre complex. We took our seats in the front row of the right side of the thrust stage (thanks to rush tickets), listening to crickets.  Soon, from somewhere below, we heard a few thumps building into a steady rhythm and the voices chanting the drum blessing.  Some minutes later, a handsome young man appeared at one of the vomitoria, gazing around the stage and occasionally toward the gathering audience.  He was dressed in what resembled an early 17th century gentleman's oufit, but with a feather adorning the back of his black hair and round gold discs hanging from his ears.  Finally, another young man with waist-length black hair swept past him, mounted the stage and approached the fire at the centre, banging a salute to each point of the compass, then the ground and the heavens.  You can see him to the left in the picture above.  Through the palisade gates at the back of the stage came two men wrapped in fur capes.  The elder of the two pointed out the young man waiting at the foot of the stage and introduced him as his bastard son Edmund.  So King Lear began with a cast of some of the finest First Nation actors in Canada.

Does it work?  On the whole, yes.  Director Peter Hinton and his cast kept it simple and stripped down.  Three powerful female actors stole most of the fire as the three daughters of Lear:  Tantoo Cardinal as a mocking, confident, terrifying Regan, Monique Mojica as a regal and dissatisfied Goneril, and Jani Lauzon as wronged Cordelia, then almost unrecognizably as the daring yet helpless Fool, which gave a whole new meaning to the line "My poor fool is hanged".

Lear was August Schellenberg whose impressive CV is pretty august in itself, but he didn't seem to hit his stride as Lear until his scene with the blinded Gloucester which is very late in the play.   He obviously had the physical stamina to tackle this, but I felt he was reciting most of his lines, more than acting them.  The final "Howl, howl, howl" carrying in the hanged Cordelia was very affecting, though.  I was touched to see him discreetly smooth her skirt down as he wept over the body.

We had prepared younger daughter for the blinding scene which always traumatizes me -- instead of fleeing up the aisle as I have been known to do in the past, I covered my eyes and plugged my ears.  Younger daughter seemed more distressed by Gloucester's later entrance in his bloody blindfold, but she assured us afterward that although she was scared, she knew it wasn't real.

We're glad we went, and are sorry to see Peter Hinton go as artistic director of the NAC English Theatre division.  It's certainly been an interesting seven years.

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