Venue Details

Folger Theatre
201 East Capitol Street, SE Washington, DC 20003
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Folger Theatre presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear in a co-production with The Classical Theatre of Harlem as part of the Shakespeare in Washington festival. Tony Award-nominee André De Shields stars in the title role. Ambition and jealousy rend the peace of family and of kingdom when an aging monarch gives up his throne and divides his land among his daughters. King Lear explores some of the central questions of mankind’s existence: destiny, love and duty, friendship and betrayal, leadership and loyalty, and the inevitability of a life nearing its end. Equal parts intimate domestic drama and explosive political commentary, King Lear is Shakespeare at his most poetic, powerful, and profound.

In Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy, the aging Lear divides his kingdom into thirds, offering a portion to each of his daughters, providing they profess their love for him. When Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to join her sisters in this game of flattery, Lear splits the kingdom in two, giving half to his eldest daughter, Goneril, and her husband, Albany, and half to daughter Regan and her husband, Cornwall. Lear banishes Cordelia and nobleman Kent, who dares question his wisdom. Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester is having familial troubles of his own with his two sons. Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, convinces him that his son Edgar wants to kill him in order to take over his land. Edgar flees and leaves Gloucester not knowing whom to trust. What began as family quarrels leads Lear, Gloucester, and their families through horrific trials of cruelty and madness.

Immediately prior to its Washington, DC presentation, this co-production of King Lear played at The Classical Theatre of Harlem in New York and at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

“This production of King Lear is based on the idea that the play is essentially a fairy tale, a fairy tale in which Lear’s family is analogous to the universe,” says director Alfred Preisser. “The same forces of creation and destruction that exist in the world of nature are at work in the family as well, with Lear literally facing nature and issuing it orders, as he has been doing with his children. Lear learns, as most of us do at one point or another, that there are serious limitations and consequences to ordering around either of these parties.”

“In addition, we have used the world of ancient Mesopotamia in the time of The Code of Hammurabi (1800 BC) as our jumping off point for costume, law, and societal structure. We are placing the story in a Middle Eastern world where the legal idea of “an eye for an eye” was first put to paper. We also had a great deal of fun playing with ideas from Margaret Mead’s book “Sex and Temperament,” to expand our ideas about what a family unit might be capable of. Specifically, Mead was exploring civilizations in her study of human sexuality in which the concept of “nurture” was not encouraged, and an openly sensual and competitive concept of life colored every aspect of family and society. In such a society, a child could be a piece of valuable property to be used in brokering deals with other families (as Lear does with the arranged marriage of his daughters), and could also become a potential enemy, gaining strength and status as the parent declined in physical and mental power.”

“We have used these elements, along with a fairly physical interpretation of the text, in an effort to create a Lear that is immediate, theatrical, entertaining, and capable of delving into the tangled matter of what exactly has gotten off track in this family. And in Lear, when we are discussing the implosion of a family, we are by implication discussing the implosion of a society and nature itself as well.”

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