reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Lear’s Shadow by Brian Elerding is First Folio Productions’ second offering for Indy’s Bard Fest (along with Henry IV Part 1) which opened this weekend for its regional debut. Mrs K and I went to a sadly under attended performance this afternoon and I came away with a good deal of appreciation and some questions as well.

Elerding’s play is a study of a calamity’s aftermath. As the play opens we meet Jackie (a tumultuous Nan Macy), who comes upon the scene, which is set in a theatre rehearsal space, a little confused and disoriented. She appears to have a black eye, and a sore neck which bothers her to the point that she must sit, then lie down. Stephen (Tom Weingartner) enters, talking on his phone, while looking for Jackie. They know each other, being part of the same theatre company. What follows is a bit of Jackie’s confused state mixed with a lot of concern on Stephen’s part. He tries to have Jackie return home, but she will not. She wonders where everyone is – why are they late for rehearsal? – where is Janine (her daughter)? When this all becomes too much for Stephen to handle, he finds he must do something to distract Jackie until her other daughter Rachel (Morgan Morton) arrives. He hits on the idea of having a discussion about a play – King Lear. This interests Jackie a great deal, getting her to focus more, and off we go – dissecting Shakespeare’s tragic play, scene by scene, while only concentrating on the main plot line which concerns King Lear’s fall into madness.

Jackie (Nan Macy) discusses King Lear with Stephen (Tom Weingartner) in a scene from “Lear’s Shadow”.

The performances in the piece, which is directed by Bard Fest founder Glenn Dobbs, are amazing. Nan Macy shows Jackie’s full menu of emotions with heightened skills. She plays Lear’s part to prodigious effect, often thundering through the lines. She plays Jackie’s interior dismay with all the correct clicks of confusion, conflict and a dash of dementia. Ms. Macy is a larger than life talent (I had the pleasure of directing her as the wearyingly wary older nun in Doubt a number of years ago). She delivers a knock-out portrayal of her troubled yet brilliant thespian.

Tom Weingartner has his own choice moments. As Stephen, he is obviously concerned about his friend’s state, and willing to stand by her, aiding Jackie through the hour until her daughter arrives. The two characters spar, react, and share interesting thoughts about Lear. Much of Stephen’s time is used by setting up scenarios for Jackie, to feel grounded by something she is expert at – Shakespearean drama, and here Weingartner adds a strong balance to Ms. Macy.

Jackie (Nan Macy) and her daughter Rachel (Morgan Morton) share a difficult moment in “Lear’s Shadow”

The plot twists slightly when Rachel arrives. Morgan Morton makes the most of her time onstage with an emotional delivery of the worried daughter. I will not share the complication that has arisen, but there are some very tender moments near the end of this play.

I absolutely loved and admired what the actors brought to the table here.

The script itself, unfortunately, was another thing altogether for me.

Note: I am not what anyone would call a Shakespearean expert. I have been involved in more than a few productions of the Bard’s work, and I have enjoyed them. I have enjoyed seeing many productions of his plays. However, I cannot say I would enjoy picking up a Complete Works of Shakespeare and trying to lose myself in the stuff. Granted, he was a genuine genius; his works have endured through time. But, there is much of it which I do not connect with. But heck, there is much modern theatre I do not connect with.

What I found in Lear’s Shadow was a very thin emotional plot, serving as a vehicle for a withering (for me) discussion of King Lear. Luckily, I have seen the play and knew what the characters were talking about, to a degree. (The person who comes to see this contemporary production will be at a huge disadvantage if he has no knowledge of King Lear.) I can only speak for myself (and Mrs K, I suppose) when I say the script was a disconnect for us; more a symposium for The Advanced Study of Shakespeare’s King Lear, than an entertainment. I may have missed a lot here, but I just do not see the connection between the story’s conflict and the delving into the details of King Lear through the actors’ discussion and “rehearsal” of the play. It is my loss, I am sure. I wish it were otherwise.

Bottomline: Brush up on your King Lear and come see these outstanding performances. This trio of actors create some very tangible characters. I just wish I had a better handle on the playwright’s objective here.

You will find this production at Indy Fringe theatre in the blackbox Indy Eleven venue. You can order tickets online at http://www.indybardfest.com.

  • photos by Antonio Chapital