Pitt-Bradford production of ‘LEAR’ presents classic topic in new ways

BRADFORD, Pa. — The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford’s production of “LEAR” aims to explore new territory on an age-old topic: dealing with the decline and death of a parent and how the younger generation copes with the loss.

Dr. Kevin Ewert, professor of theater, is directing the edgy, ultra-modern spinoff of William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” The show will take place April 2, 3 and 4 in the Studio Theater of Blaisdell Hall.

“In some ways this is more accessible than Shakespeare,” Ewert said of the script by Young Jean Lee, a writer and director hailed as one of the most exciting theater-makers in America today. “Not everyone thinks Shakespeare is a good time, and for some his language can be a barrier to the story.”

Ewert assures that although the costumes are traditional Elizabethan, the language is not (in fact — be warned — it is extravagantly vulgar in places).
“LEAR” picks up somewhere in the middle of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” a play about a king driven to madness by his daughters’ betrayal. Aside from the famous image of the mad king out raging in a storm, knowledge of the original play is not necessary, Ewert said. A synopsis in the program will provide theatergoers with all they need to know.

In the beginning of the one-hour whirlwind that is “LEAR,” the characters are those created by Shakespeare – minus the older generation. Instead, we see the children desperately seeking any distraction from thinking about what they have done. When Lee has gone as far as she can with them, she “blows the play up,” Ewert said, by changing characters and scenes and locations and styles, offering other meditations on death, aging and the transition from childhood to adulthood.

The most important thing to keep in mind, Ewert said, is that “it’s all going to change, and then it’s probably going to change again.”

Ewert said his student cast was intrigued but perplexed when they read the script to themselves, but after a reading out loud, they began to relate to its audacious humor and deep, dark soul.

“Even a highly experimental play can still be about our lives as children and as parents,” Ewert said. “‘LEAR’ is challenging – but it’s also really funny and incredibly intimate and at times deeply sad. That’s nothing to be afraid of. Besides, it’s our job in the theater to hold your hand and guide you through the dark.”

Students in the production are Jamal Davis, a sports medicine major from Philadelphia, as Edgar; Taha Esa, a biology major from Thousand Oaks, Calif., as Edmund; Lanessa Hickman, an undeclared student from Lees Summit, Mo., as Goneril; Julia Messam, an undeclared student from Media, as Regan; and Delaney Held, a public relations major from Erie, as Cordelia.

“LEAR” is presented by the Division of Communication and the Arts as part of the Spectrum Arts Series. It is the last presentation in a year-long celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, which also included a visit to campus from The Improvised Shakespeare Company and a fall production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Show times are 7:30 p.m. April 2, 3 and 4, with a special late show at 10 p.m. on April 3. Tickets are $6 for the public and $2 for all students.

For more information or tickets, call the Bromeley Family Theater box office at 814-362-5113 or email the box office at shotix@pitt.edu. For disability needs related to the show, contact the Office of Disability Resources at (814)362-7609 or clh71@pitt.edu.

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