The Quiet Green, usually little more than a walkway for busy students, is transformed into a stage for actors dressed in clothes from the 16th century. Blankets on the grass form a space for the audience and lamps mark the boundaries of the stage as Shakespeare on the Green, Brown's only open-air theater troupe, shares the tragic story of "King Lear" Oct. 21–24.
The play was chosen partly because it has not been produced as often as many of Shakespeare's plays and because there are "a lot of intertwining plots" with multidimensional characters, according to director Shana Tinkle '11.5.
The play focuses primarily on two power battles within families. Primarily, it is about the dying King Lear (Harry Aspinwall '11), who is preparing to step down as king. He divides his kingdom between his three sisters in return for proclamations of their love for him.
Though Shakespeare wrote Lear as the father of the three women, Tinkle said, she decided to make him their brother in this production to allow students to relate to the plot more easily. By making Lear a younger character dying of an unnamed sickness, instead of an elderly man dying of old age, the play's focus shifts away from aging to better examine the other characters and the different themes they represent.
When Lear's most beloved sister (Gillian Michaelson '14) refuses to put her love into words, Lear disowns her. He realizes he has made a mistake as the remaining sisters take control of the kingdom, and he flees their house.
The other power struggle plays out between two brothers: Edmund (Emma Johnson '14) and Edgar (Austen Hyde '14). Edmund is the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester (Andrew Favaloro GS) and is trying to inherit his father's land by convincing the Earl that Edgar, his legitimate brother, is trying to kill him. Gloucester is enraged by Edmund's lies and Edgar is forced to flee.
The play also addresses themes of loyalty, greed and family. Kent (Kirsten Ward '12), a supporter of the king, symbolizes loyalty in her endless willingness to follow him. Under Tinkle's direction, Kent, while normally a man, is portrayed as a woman. Tinkle said she wanted to play with "unusual gender twists," experimenting with the idea that Kent's extreme loyalty towards the king stems from her secret love for him.
Edmund, while not inherently evil, is driven to act selfishly by what he perceives as the injustice of his illegitimacy.
"(Edmund and the King's sisters) are driven by ambitions, greed and power," Tinkle said. This message came across to the audience partly through the efforts of the actors, but also through the well-chosen costumes. The "evil" sisters and Edmund wear darker colors and formal clothing, while the less selfish characters wear more neutral colors and simple costumes.
As the king is dying, he becomes more affected by the mistakes he has made and appears to be driven mad, allowing Aspinwall to show off a wide-ranging talent. But over the course of the play, Lear also begins to feel compassion. He becomes more sensitive, but his new sensibility causes him to fully realize the weight of his mistakes, driving him to insanity.
The actors in general do a good job. Despite many distractions on the Green, they managed to stay convincingly in character. However, sound pollution from noise and human traffic proved an issue. While it was sometimes difficult to hear what the actors were saying, they did not let the noise disturb them and projected well.
Favaloro and Hyde were both particularly impressive as Gloucester and Edgar. Favaloro acted out his anger, despair and pity believably. Hyde had a trickier part as the runaway Edgar, who had to pretend to be someone else and therefore take on several characters, but he was convincing in all his roles and very entertaining.
Because of the difficulty in hearing the actors, audience members who are not familiar with the play may be at a disadvantage in following the plot. But "King Lear" is a compelling story about the implications of power struggles on relationships, and Shakespeare on the Green performs it well, bringing the play's many elements together to create an engaging production.