Blow, Wind, and Crack Your Cheeks!

I dunno, I like that line.



I am not a professional dramaturg. I did not hate Theatre Calgary’s production of King Lear. I only saw it once, and that was on the first night of performance.

Still, something’s been nagging at me about that performance.

I’ve expressed some dissatisfaction with Theatre Calgary’s version of the play already in one of the responses for this course. Until Artistic Associate Shari Wattling’s presentation in class last week, perhaps I didn’t have a real grasp of what was bothering me. Hearing her reiterate the company’s vision of the play as a drama focused on Lear and his family, however, began to bring some of the issues I’d picked up on into focus. Later in that same presentation Ms. Wattling also spoke about the (very real) joy of hearing Shakespeare’s villains describing their plots to the audience via direct soliloquy, and this was enough for me to realize what was behind the tension that I had felt.

Theatre Calgary wanted to focus on the relationships of King Lear’s central family, but it seems to me that in doing so they lost a good amount of focus on much of the rest of the production. King Lear is, of course, a family drama. The tensions of sabotage and betrayal extend further than Lear and his daughters, however, and they are not the only characters in the play who deserve an honest portrayal as people with thoughts and motives that are (in their own minds) justified.

To treat Edmund as a villain without the complexity provided to him by the text of the play, without the drive towards murderous intrigue that in his mind is rendered valid by his mistreatment, does much to rob his final attempt at redemption of its impact. Why should an audience be expected to believe Edmund’s final change of heart when throughout the play to that point he has been shown to be only a moustache-twirling evildoer? Michael Blake can’t be accused of delivering a bad performance in the role, but somewhere along the way the unity of the production seems to have unravelled. Edmund became, in this telling of the story, unsympathetic and uncomplicated. This does not seem to me to be the proper state of things for the bleak and grey (morally and otherwise) tale that is King Lear.

I like to root for a good villain. Villains have free reign to be a bit more interesting, a bit more intelligent and conniving than the troublesome protagonists they find themselves pitted against. Shakespeare is to my knowledge beyond all competition in his ability to craft anti-heroes, characters which beg their audiences to secretly cheer them on. Iago and Edmund certainly fall into this category and Macbeth eventually falls to their ranks in his own story. The most famous of Shakespeare’s heroes flirt with that dark and complicated villainy as well, neither Romeo nor Hamlet being above getting their hands dirty. Shakespeare’s tragedies are driven by their villains and by their soon-to-be villains, and to see one of them excluded from his most profound moments of family drama by the seemingly simplistic decisions behind this production of King Lear was certainly a disappointment.

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