King Lear

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Summer draws to a close and we will soon feel the fall air tumbling down upon us. The trees will don their magical vestments of gold, orange, yellow, and red in a deluge of colors that will dance in our eyes.   Being Pittsburghers and those who live in the surrounding areas, we can yet enjoy blazing days, and lazy weekends.  In an effort to provide additional joy the Pittsburgh Parks have opened their green meadows and lush fields to Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks.

This organization has been striving to bring quality renditions of various Shakespearian gems to the denizens of the region since 2005.  This year they have taken on the ambitious effort of presenting King Lear.  Over the next several weeksKing Lear will be seen at several of the urban parks that provide a lovely respite from the steel, tar and concrete that dominate so much of our lives.  If you have a chance to get out and see the effort directed by Jeffrey Chips and Jennifer Tober then you will have topped off your summer with a taste of culture that should be as refreshing as a plummet into the cool waters of any of our public pools.

For those of you who do not know, King Lear provides a look into the life of an aging King who has three daughters.  He intends on going into retirement essentially, and wishes to divide his kingdom between the three.  The daughters need only profess their love for their father and the prize would be theirs.  However, if this were to go off without a hitch then there could be no tragedy on which to rest the play.  Hence, one of the daughters refuses to take part in such foolery and simply states her love as opposed to the excessive patronizing statements of her rival sisters.  The King does not appreciate this and exiles this daughter and so the play unfolds building and developing until a climax leaving numerous characters dead with a wreck of a tragedy to behold.

The venues are the parks themselves, and the plays are completely outside hence, the controlled environment of the theater does not exist.  The players and the director do a very good job of setting the ambiance of the play with live music, and some simple special effects.  All in all the setting, though different, only adds to the enjoyment.  The one matter that I found unsettling, had to deal with outsiders who were not there to see the play and yet they chose to disrupt the play with phone calls, and general discourse in a clear display of disrespect, but a play outside of the confines of the traditional theater can be exposed to such variables.

Of special note, the play that I saw at Frick Park had been performed in the round.  I will assume that all performances will be the same.  We, the audience, surrounded the space and either sat on the ground, blankets, or on chairs brought along for that purpose.  Hence, prepare yourself accordingly and enjoy this method of presentation as I thought it added to the joy of the show rather than as a detraction.

The actors themselves are clearly a very dedicated group.  This year’s cast includes Ronald Siebert, a highly regarded actor with a tremendous list of professional accomplishments that have taken him throughout the America’s and beyond.  He plays the key role of King Lear lending his talents to the character and providing a stage presence that should not be missed.

Nicholas Benninger, plays one of the King’s daughters as well the Fool.  I found it interesting that he played a female, but in Shakespeare’s day this would have been common place as the female roles were reserved for teenage boys.  This being said, Nicholas played his roles well including that of Cordelia the exiled daughter of Lear.  He did a fine job at making us believe in him.  There are many actors who perform a great many roles, but as always space for the words of adulation are limited, but I wanted to mention Jennifer Tober who played two characters and performed the duties of Artistic Director.  Given her roles, little doubt can be left as to her dedication to Shakespeare in the Parks.  I don’t know a lot of the inner dynamics of the organization, but I do know I enjoyed myself this past Saturday.  This enjoyment I owe, in part, to Jennifer Tober.  We who attended need thank her and Pittsburgh needs to thank her and all of the other actors as well for their roles in bringing the tragedy of King Lear to life under the beautiful summer skies.

There are several more performances in the forth coming weeks.  Don’t miss this opportunity to get out and enjoy these last days of summer.  Take a chance and go see a wonderful play amidst the beautiful scenery in the depths of an urban setting.  Many of us have never enjoyed these parks.  Take advantage of the free offering and go and enjoy yourself and take home a memory of a summer gone by.

For information on Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, check out their website here.

Performance Date: Saturday, September 5, 2015