The Gustavus Adolphus College Department of Theatre and Dance will present William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear on the Anderson Stage May 6-7 and 12-14. Legendary Gustavus theatre professor emeritus Rob Gardner is returning to Gustavus to reprise his iconic role of King Lear.
As Gardner is revising his role for the Gustavus production, he expresses that he is even more excited and confident about becoming King Lear. “I guess that I feel like I know the role better,” he said. “And I feel the words have sunk into my bones a bit more. I understand Lear better than I did 10 years ago.”
This is also not the first time that director Amy Seham and Gardner have worked together. In 2007, he performed in the Gustavus production of The Tempest, starring as Prospero. “Ten years ago, I chose The Tempest with Rob in mind. It was a wonderful way for Rob to bid farewell as he was retiring from all his years of teaching at Gustavus.”
In many ways, he is still teaching students involved in the production. Gardner has been working closely with students both in class and rehearsals. Students involved in the production also have an opportunity to explore their roles outside of evening rehearsals. King Lear is also being studied in a class taught twice a week to develop their experience with Shakespearean performance.
“It’s been fun,” Gardner said. “I found that the energy is invigorating. It also makes me realize how old I am. The students are very bright, willing to jump in and do what’s necessary and are willing to work with improvisation.”
Known as Shakespeare’s “magnum opus,” King Lear tells two parallel stories of love and loss, family strife, and the collapse of power. As the story begins, King Lear is preparing to abdicate the throne and transfer his power to his three daughters, Goneril, Regean, and Cordelia. When the King asks his daughters to proclaim their love for him in exchange for that power, he is not satisfied with Cordelia’s resistant answer, throws her out, and forces her to marry the King of France. At the same time, the Earl of Gloucester’s illegitimate son, Edmund, returns home from overseas and seeks the title that his legitimate brother Edgar will receive. The stories intertwine to create one of tragedy’s favorite family dramas.
The Gustavus cast is bringing a new angle to the development of the plot in King Lear. “I am approaching the play from my perspective as a daughter, which is distinctive from many productions that come from a very masculine perspective,” Seham said. “I am looking at both a sense of resistance to authority, but also with the sympathy and forgiveness that emerges when this powerful man is losing his power that defines him.”
The concepts for design and choreography are also bringing Lear into a new light for 2017. The ensemble, for example, plays a large role in creating setting for the various scenes throughout the show, ranging from being rowdy knights to embodying the storm that peaks in Act Three. The setting and costume inspirations are also based in contemporary art and fashion.
The director is eager to see how the production mixes both the traditional and the new. “I wouldn’t have chosen to do King Lear if Rob Gardner had not been willing to play the part,” Seham said. “I think Lear is a role that requires maturity and experience, and I knew that working with Rob would be a positive experience for me and a wonderful learning opportunity for students.”
Tickets will go on sale this Friday, April 21, at gustavustickets.com. They will also be available in Anderson one hour before show times. Shows on May 6, 12, and 13 begin at 7:30 p.m. and May 7 and 14 shows begin at 2 p.m.