On a typical Tuesday morning you would ordinarily find me in a cubicle gazing lifelessly into a computer monitor, but this Tuesday morning is far from typical. As a participant in the Dallas Theater Center's Stage Manager Observer program, I've been assigned the role of prompter, scoring me a one-way ticket away from my desk and into a front-row seat of tech week for their upcoming production of King Lear.
The low murmurings of the office and general shuffling of papers have been replaced with the bellowing of tribal drums, mundane meetings with brutal fight scenes performed by men in combat gear with wooden bats and jagged knives, while the sound of gunfire ricochets across the stage. And the office, well, that's the best part. There is no office, only the stage of the remarkable Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, where stagehands ready the collapsible set and actors prepare themselves to be drenched in the raging storm scene.
Of course rehearsal is not always this action-packed. Actually, it's rather the opposite. For the most part, getting through rehearsal is slow-going, as the stage manager calls "hold please" for the hundredth time that day. It's tech week, and there are sound cues to set and entrances to perfect. I'm astonished by the cast, their grasp of the language and can't help but notice how unnecessary as a prompter I really am. This quickly becomes clear as every member of the cast flawlessly recites every word of their Shakespearean dialogue. Soliloquies are interrupted while cues are set, and seamlessly resumed. Everyone remains patient late into the night. It must be from practice.
As excited as I am to be there, even I find myself getting antsy after six hours of straight sitting. I'm ready to get to the good stuff: The unraveling of Lear's sanity, the eye-gouging, the battle and the part where in true Shakespeare fashion (spoiler alert!) a lot of people die. But even as things slow to a standstill, the actors all remain good-natured, entertaining themselves and one another until asked to resume.
This modernized version presents a cut of the play that is accessible to contemporary audiences and is part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national program of the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest. A co-production between Trinity Repertory Company and Dallas Theater Center, this sweeping Shakespearean tragedy stars Brian McEleney in the title role, as a King with a short fuse and a penchant for flattery, whose ill-placed confidence in his daughters leads to madness and the dissolution of a kingdom.
Having played last October to rave reviews in Rhode Island, the cast and crew, along with director Kevin Moriarty have reunited to bring the show to Dallas audiences. Members of the Brierley Resident Acting Company include Steven Michael Walter, co-founder of Second Thought Theatre, in the role of Edgar, and Lee Trull, Literary Associate of Dallas Theatre Center, in the role of Edmund; as well as Christina Vela as Goneril, Abbey Seigworth as Cordelia, Hassan El-Amin as the Earl of Kent and Chamblee Ferguson as the Duke of Cornwall. Joining them onstage is a seasoned group of Dallas performers and graduate students from the SMU Meadows School of the Arts, along with an equally prestigious group from Trinity Repertory Company, several of whom are professors for the Brown/Trinity Repertory MFA program.
Audiences can expect a brave performance from Brian McEleney, who fearlessly tackles the emotional spectrum of Lear to great success, along with strong supporting performances from both acting companies. Appearing minimalist in its design, the seemingly simple, yet regal set allows for some unique surprises along the way.
King Lear is currently in previews and opens Friday, Jan. 25, running through Feb. 17.