Review of Dreaming of Lear at Saint Louis University

    The third production of the season at Saint Louis University was Dreaming of Lear: A Devised Work Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. It was produced in collaboration with the Prison Performing Arts Alumni Theatre Company. The work is difficult to describe, but it was easy to enjoy in the recent staging in the Kranzberg, Black Box Theatre.

    As the subtitle states, Dreaming of Lear is a devised work: an original performance piece developed collaboratively by the cast and the creative team through research, workshops, and improvisation.

    Though based on King Lear, Dreaming of Lear is not simply a conscious response to Shakespeare’s play. The participants tried to tap into the unconscious mind, too. The basic elements of the plot were gathered from interviews with “co-creators” (the term used in a program note by dramaturg Valerie Rosqueta) on what they dreamed after they fell asleep while listening to a recording of King Lear.

    Research into surrealism and liminal spaces influenced the design of the set, props, and costumes, which reflected the uncertainties of a dream state. The stage management team documented the devised script as the cast developed original scenes.

    The progression of the action is no more logical than in a dream, though viewers can maintain their bearings in relation to Shakespeare by watching recorded excerpts from King Lear that are projected at intervals on the set.

    The play successfully conveyed a dreamlike atmosphere. The confusion created by a dream was intensified by a couple of creative decisions: Lear’s three daughters were dressed alike and the two dukes (Goneril’s husband Albany and Regan’s husband Cornwall) were played by the same actor.

    What I saw was fascinating, but as in a dream, few of the details remained with me at the end. The most memorable scene for me was the one based on Act 3 Scene 6 of King Lear, in which Lear in his madness imagines that Goneril and Regan are on trial before Edgar, the Fool, Kent, and Lear himself. Both episodes are troubling explorations of justice.

    The fine cast included:

    • Celeste Gardner as Goneril
    • Madeline Chatham as Regan
    • Lauren Tubbe as Cordelia
    • Jake Santhuff as the dukes of Albany and Cornwall
    • Rose Reiker as Edgar
    • Jack Rimar as Edmund
    • Cameron Schoeck as Earl of Kent
    • Meredith Lyons as Lear’s fool
    • Eric Satterfield as Earl of Gloucester (video)
    • LaWanda Jackson as Lear (video)
    • Katie Leemon as Lear (video)
    • David Nonemaker as a knight (video)

    Lucy Cashion’s direction was intriguing throughout. The production featured admirable work in Ryan Sherman’s scenic design, Lou Bird’s costumes, Denisse Chavez’ lighting, Lucy Cashion and Joe Taylor’s sound, and Taylor’s video. The technical director and production manager was Joe Stafford.

    Works devised at SLU have often been taken up by other local companies. I look forward to seeing Dreaming of Lear again.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by ProPhotoSTL