Noblemen disguise themselves as mad beggars and kings go insane. Fools speak the truth. Children betray fathers, brothers kill brothers and sisters poison sisters. Welcome to the mixed-up, turbulent world of William Shakespeare's "King Lear," opening Friday at the San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Lear decides to relinquish the throne and divide his kingdom among his three daughters. But first they must ceremonially affirm their love for him. When his loving and favored daughter says nothing, Lear banishes her and divvies his kingdom between his two power-hungry, wicked daughters. Their thirst for absolute authority brings the nation to the brink of disaster.
Regarded as one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, "King Lear" is about life itself, and hits some big themes -- betrayal and authority, justice, kindness, truth, and whether human nature is fundamentally selfish or generous. The Rep production stars artistic director Sam Woodhouse as Lear and Armin Shimerman, better known to TV audiences as Quark on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," as The Fool.
As part of the Rep's presentation, the theater is partnering with local educators and the National Endowment for the Arts to bring theater and Shakespeare to local students in "Lear on the Border." The Rep is one of only 22 theater companies across the country, and one of three in California, awarded $25,000 to participate in the NEA's "Shakespeare for a New Generation" program. The program was designed to provide middle and high school students in underserved communities across the country with the opportunity to see professional productions of Shakespeare plays.
"King Lear" is an old tale that has a strikingly modern resonance, addressing familiar issues of family dynamics, mutual expectations, emotional manipulation, sibling rivalry and repercussions of blame. Through explorations of the play's timeless themes and issues, these students will get a perspective of how Shakespeare continues to be relevant today.
Throughout February and March, the Lear on the Border outreach team has been conducting in-school presentations with students in San Diego's border communities to prepare them to see the Rep production. A team of five professional actors present selections from the play, along with intensive, interactive, bilingual workshops to bring the material into the students' world and make it relevant to their own experiences. Workshops include recitation of sonnets and monologues, bilingual interpretations, lessons in Shakespearian language and iambic pentameter, and improvisation exercises.
The outreach program will reach about 2,000 students in grades seven through 12, from 20 schools in the Sweetwater District. Located between downtown San Diego and the international border with Mexico, the district is one of the most ethnically diverse, multigenerational and underserved areas in San Diego County. One in every five families in the Sweetwater District receives public assistance and nearly half the student population qualifies for free or reduced-price meals.
The Rep will also bring students into the theater in April with "Day at the Rep: Lear on the Border." Students from various high schools will participate in a 40-minute seminar taught by the production's costume designers, artistic collaborators and directors before viewing the mainstage performance of "King Lear." These performances will be followed by a post-show question and answer session with the play's cast and crew.
In an educational environment where little or no emphasis is placed on the arts, the Lear on the Border program will reach students who are otherwise unreachable. The San Diego Repertory Theatre will provide what will be for many students their first experience with Shakespeare and live theater. And that, in turn, may spark in young people a lasting love of theater -- a lofty goal for any theater company.
PROGRAM: "King Lear," directed by Todd Salovey
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Dates: Through April 17
Show times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. matinees April 2, 3, 10 and 17
Location: Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego
More information: (619) 544-1000, www.sandiegorep.com
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