July 10, 2020

A Stunning Lear Commands the Stage at the Theatricum Botanicum



A Stunning <i>Lear</i> Commands the Stage at the Theatricum Botanicum

From left, Melora Marshall. Aaron Hendry (Goneril), Ellen Geer, Christopher W. Jones (Regan) in the opening scene when Queen Lear asks for her sonís declarations of love and loyalty in exchange for a portion of the kingdom.

Considered Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer takes on the title role of the aging monarch that sees Lear divide her kingdom and test the loyalty of her three sons.

Yet, this Lear, directed and interpreted by Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall, is interesting, intriguing, funny and ultimately, heartbreaking. 

Joining Geer onstage are longtime company members Aaron Hendry as the handsome, yet evil eldest son, Goneril, Christopher W. Jones as the equally repugnant Regan and Dane Oliver as the youngest and most beloved son, “Cordelian.”

Alan Blumenfeld masterfully portrays the Earl of Gloucester, Abby Craden is sinister as Gloucester’s elder daughter, the bastard “Igraine,” and Willow Geer is her younger half-sister, “Eden,” who also doubles as the ‘mad beggar’ “Tom O’Bedlam.”

Also in the cast are Melora Marshall as the wise Fool, Liz Eldridge as the Duchess of Cornwall, Taylor Jackson Ross as the Duchess of Albany, Gerald C. Rivers in a beautiful portrayal as the loyal and wise Earl of Kent and Frank Weidner as Oswald, servant to Goneril.

We open in the "Court of Lear," where Geer easily commands the stage as she intends to abdicate and divide her empire among her offspring in exchange for declarations of love and devotion.

While Goneril and Regan are quick to falsely flatter their mother, declaring their ‘unwavering’ and ‘undying’ love for her, Cordelian says nothing, even when Lear threatens ominously that “Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.”

Cordelian is yet unable to speak of anything that is not true in his heart.

“Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave

My heart into my mouth.

I love your majesty

According to my bond; no more nor less.”

Therefore, when Cordelian refuses to falsely flatter his mother, Lear succumbs to her rage and banishes her son, then only later realizes the folly of her ways as the realization of the complete betrayal by her eldest sons becomes apparent as they laughingly cast her out into a devastating storm.


A Stunning <i>Lear</i> Commands the Stage at the Theatricum Botanicum

Ellen Geer as Lear and Melora Marshall as her loyal Fool out in the middle of the storm when the queen goes mad with grief and remorse.

Perhaps the only real misstep here is the unusual staging that breaks the boundaries of conventional theatrical style.

During the "mad queen" storm scene, Lear first appears on the roof of the stage building, clutching onto the branches of a mighty oak tree, while her Fool tries to persuade her to come in out of the wind and rain. From there the staging takes us through the woods backstage, to the far wings and ultimately to the roof of the light booth in the rear of the theater.

Let’s just say that the audience heaved a collective sigh of relief to see their beloved Ellen Geer and Melora Marshall safe and sound back to their rightful place center stage.

After the storm, Lear’s redemption begins when she is stripped of all of her trappings and becomes the “mad queen,” in the eyes of her eldest sons.

The play culminates in sincere humility when she reunites with Cordelian, who, despite banishment, had always remained devoted to his mother.

The play becomes allegorical at the very moment when the now noble Queen embraces her dead son Cordelian and mourns his loss to the point of falling over his body, herself dead from grief.

A significant sub-plot revolves around the Earl of Gloucester, his legitimate daughter, Eden (Willow Geer), and Igraine, (Abby Craden) who plots to discredit her half-sister and overthrow her father. Like Kent, Gloucester is loyal to Queen Lear but ‘blind’ to Igraine’s hatred.

As played by Willow Geer, the role of Eden is tantalizing because she starts out as the gullible innocent, easily tricked by her sister, but smart enough to evade her father’s men. She disguises herself as Poor Tom O’Bedlam, a "mad beggar," and eventually comes to the aid of Queen Lear during the storm and later, her blinded father, Gloucester.

Melora Marshall is loving and poignant as the queen's Fool, who is at once greatly distressed by Cordelian’s banishment, yet willing and wise in service to the Queen.

She delivers an understated performance that points up the familial love for the queen that is, ironically, sorely lacking in the eldest sons of the royal family itself. This Lear is a great production, wonderful and a fabulous interpretation that explores the true nature of motherly love.

Lear continues through Sept. 28. A must-see!

Angelic Pre-Show Treats:

The Angel in Your Kitchen will be at the Theatricum every Saturday, beginning at 6:30 p.m., as well as during intermission with her pre- show theatre bites. ­Arrive early for the 8 p.m. show, with or without your picnic basket, to savor the fresh-baked sweet and savory treats—all baked and prepared in the Angel’s kitchen on the premises—for a light pre-show sup or to enhance your own picnic.

Gluten-free and vegan selections are also available from the tantalizing menu of quiches, tomato tarts, croissants sweet and savory, savory cheese crisps, Gruyere bites, profiteroles, cookies, bread pudding, salads, assorted breads and sticky buns.

Outdoor Seating: The outdoor amphitheater at Theatricum Botanicum is terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Snacks are available at the Hamlet Hut, and picnickers are welcome before and after the performances.

Tickets: Adults: $37 (lower tier); $25 (upper tier); Seniors (60+), Students, Military Veterans, AEA Members: $25/$15; Children (7-12): $10; Children 6 and under: free. Thursday dinner/play combos: call theater for pricing, advance reservations required

Location: Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley.

For more information and to purchase tickets, call (310) 455-3723 or theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook:facebook.com/theatricum . Follow us on twitter: @theatricum.