“King Lear” is a labor of love

 

 

 

 

Mallory Wedding, Barry Kraft and Chelsea Regan rehearse for "King Lear," opening Thursday night in SOU's Center Stage Theater. Photo courtesy of Darek Riley

 

Poking out of trapdoors, painting wooden staircases and hanging sliding partitions, students work furiously to bring to life Director Brent Hinkley’s medieval set.

Hipsters in tight jeans, striped hoodies and coiffed hairdo’s buzz from set to lobby, lobby to costume design, costume design to the drafting loft and then back to the set. They move with precision, hustling from one task to the next.

Hinkley’s Britain is built entirely on the effort of set design and production students.

They rush because on Thursday, the time for preparation will be over. Tonight marks the time to act. All work must be finished for opening night.

For almost seven weeks, students have been rehearsing for the Southern Oregon University production of “King Lear,” set to run Feb. 17-27 at the Center Stage Theatre on campus.

The lead actor, Barry Kraft, stands out, but not in a sore-thumb kind of way. His white beard, salt and peppered hair and crow’s feet distinguish him among the 20-somethings.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival dramaturge and Actor’s Equity Association actor has a beaming smile and strong handshake. His energy for the stage is apparent in every move.

He calls “King Lear” the “Mt. Everest” of plays. A work so grand in scope, language and plot, it feels “huge, scary and un-climbable.”

But the lifelong actor has done this climb before. Having been a part of nine different productions of “King Lear,” the knowledgeable Kraft understands the journey is not completed in a day.

He has guided the students through the sometimes intimidating task of conquering perhaps the bard’s greatest play, keeping things in a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mentality.

“To conquer an Everest you must remember the Earth it comes from,” he said. In Shakespeare there is a lot of relevance to today’s society, and to connect to the material – it was first written in 1608 – actors must recognize that connection.

“King Lear,” perhaps more than any other of his plays, could be considered Shakespeare’s tome on love.

“In the first scene the word ‘love’ is spoke 23 times,” Kraft points out. “That is by far and away the most times in any of Shakespeare’s works (characters) say it. What Lear demands is love from his daughters.”

That demand sets in motion the tragic wheels of “King Lear.” The transformation that occurs over the course of the play is where the connection runs deepest.

Lear’s un-loveable nature creates a strong character who earns redemption through hardship.

“There is something redeeming—even when he is being unpleasant,” said Kraft. “He turns into the man ‘more sinned against than sinning.’”

According to assistant director Winston Bischof, the department hopes that the students will learn more from a veteran actor than if a student played Lear.

 

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