Last night I saw Prism Movement Theater’s LEAR. It is a wordless adaptation of KING LEAR focusing on Lear, her Daughters, and the Fool. It was a fantastic piece and I’m so glad I was able to see it. This isn’t a review of the production, I’m just trying to understand why it affected me as deeply as it did. I was crying in the first scene as the daughters are forced to compete or prove their worth.
This isn’t a synopsis either.
Lear might be my favorite Shakespeare play and I had forgotten that. I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. I’ve never seen a traditional production of Lear so this was my first time to see the story on a stage in any form. And it was a perfect stage. Small. Dark. A cave. A family on the front row was very nervous about their own daughters getting nicked during a gorgeous sword fight/dance. It was entirely safe of course, which is why their unease was sort of delightful for me to witness.
Lear is my favorite Shakespeare play because of Susan Willis. I was her student at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival MFA Actor Program which no longer exists because of money or whatever. She taught theatre history. Every week we would read two Shakespeare plays and every Saturday we would discuss them for two hours, many in our pajamas, hung over with coffee and donuts. Somehow this didn’t deter the discussion, although Susan may disagree. In my memory we did Lear and Othello on the same Saturday. I don’t remember the details of the class but I still have my notes and my journals. What I remember is Susan becoming passionate as she talked about the plays, how they relate. And yeah we’re talking about theme and structure and dramaturgy. But then Susan gets choked up and her eyes get red. She says, “The end of these plays would be entirely different with five words.” And she counts them off on her fingers. “I. Love. You. I’m. Sorry.”
I’ve been crying in theaters a lot lately, on stage and off. I’ve been crying a lot on stage even when I’m not supposed to or don’t have to. I’ve been crying when I see plays. I get embarrassed and say “I’m a mess” but I’m not.
So tonight the play starts and I know how it ends and I start crying the second Lear banishes her daughter. The play focused solely on what I really like about Lear (and every other Shakespeare). The relationships. Family. That’s really all I needed. I didn’t need the husbands or the armies or the kingdom or any of that shit. Just the relationships. Mother and daughters. Mother needs something daughter can’t or won’t give. Keeps going bad from there. That’s what I needed tonight.
After Sherry was diagnosed a close friend of mine asked me about my spiritual life. I think about that a lot, but I don’t think that merely thinking that question counts as having a spiritual life. Or maybe it does, I don’t know.
I do know that tonight when my friend Marianne, as Lear, howled from her bones over what I chose to be the general state of things at the moment I thought, “There. That’s what it feels like.”
Right now theatre is my spiritual life.
Thomas Ward is a DFW-based actor, thinker, husband to Sherry Jo, teacher, parent and generally irreverent, outstanding human being. His thoughts are always welcome on this site.