The first night of an unlikely 'King Lear' at Theatre Northwest

2013-08-15T21:05:00Z 2013-08-19T18:57:04Z The first night of an unlikely 'King Lear' at Theatre NorthwestBy Pat Colander
August 15, 2013 9:05 pm  • 

This is what's known as serendipity: Norman Caplan, an experienced director who regards "King Lear" Shakespeare's best and most difficult play, and has read it at least 100 times and seen countless performances, (including an Eastern European gangster version at Goodman with Stacy Keach) makes some calls last Spring. Norm finds out from Mark Baer, assistant professor of performing arts at IUN, that there is space available.

The space, known as Theatre Northwest, is where the school's laboratory theater is temporarily located at 3660 Grant Street, until the flooded arts center can be rebuilt. Champion networker and teacher in the communications department of Purdue Calumet Continuing Lecturer Corya Channing, jumped on board for the project as well as Morgan McCabe, who has worked as a professional actress for her entire career, often in (Chicago but other well-known theater companies as well.

Morgan explains she was there at the first night of the opening show of Body Politic and other legendary theaters like the Goodman, with legendary directors, in Lincoln Park and Chicago in the 1970s.)

The original leap of faith came when Norm, Mark, Corya and Morgan decided to form the Gary Shakespeare Co. and get the 501c3 process going. The next project was to decide to take on the most challenging play ever---Norm likes to remind the cast that Richard Burton would never accept the role of King Lear because he felt it was beyond his abilities---it sounds like that was an easy decision for this intrepid group. And do a casting call.

The founders agree they weren't expecting much from the open audition in May and were kind of shocked when almost 30 people showed up to try out. And perhaps, most surprisingly, a genuine King Lear showed up for the audition. Steve Rohe, who has directed and produced numerous shows at the Fourth Street Theater in Chesterton, including a terrific production of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer-Prize and Tony-Award-Winning play “August: Osage County,” as it happened has always dreamed about having the chance to play King Lear. And now he is.

But the members of the Gary Shakespeare Co. Were equally surprised and relieved that they were able to cast the entire play in about a day. And you will probably not find a more diverse cast in every aspect, including experience with the work of William Shakespeare. There are 11 major parts in the play filled with numerous types of characters and a cast with numerous characteristics---old, young, gay, straight, different colors, skinny, chubby, big hair, bald. If the idea of having a community theater company is to reflect that community---and of course, with Shakespeare what else would be going on?---this production fulfills that mission perfectly.

"King Lear" is the ultimate Baby Boomer play with its never-ending relevance.To refresh your memory of the plot, King Lear, in around 800 B.C., decides on a succession plan where he will divide up his power, land and wealth between his three daughters, who of course have no-account husbands, various groups of hangers-on and ne'er do well friends. The idea goes bad. Everyone knows from experience succession plans go this way about half the time, especially when the succession plan calls for an alive King to give up the throne. When the King starts referring to his children as "unnatural hags," you know the plan is doomed, and so is pretty much everybody on the stage.

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