With the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death rapidly approaches, The Quill Theatre is commemorating the incomparably-influential playwright with a bold production of one of his many gritty works.
Their current production of “King Lear” directed by Jan Powell at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts stars Joe Inscoe as the title character. With ticket prices ranged from $20-35, the show will run until April 23.
“King Lear” details the story of the king by which the show is titled, and how how he is resigns from his noble position and divides his land between his three daughters. The show touches on some key themes of justice, obliviousness and the importance but faults with order opposed to chaos.
Mac MacDaniel, the dramaturge coordinator at Quill Theatre, plays an essential role not only in the production of Lear, but also throughout a multitude of their productions.
MacDaniel’s said his job is really that of a theatrical consultant.
“I advise actors and directors on how to approach the textual elements of Shakespeare’s plays,” MacDaniel said. “I help explain themes, characterization, historical and literary context, help cut scripts down for timing purposes, and participate in character conferences.”
MacDaniel said that his strengths in dramaturge play into this production especially.
“I think that if I have a strength, it is in characterization: trying to truthfully understand what makes these characters tick,” MacDaniel said. “I would definitely say that I follow A.C. Bradley, an early 20th century British critic, in his psychological approach to Shakespeare’s characters.
Bradley is a famed scholar, whose examinations of Shakespeare’s characters have been widely commented on. He’s attributed with appreciating the depth of the characters beyond face value, adding and overall depth to the work of Shakespeare that is translated to stage in modern day.
“Bradley always thinks of Shakespearean characters as real people who can be analyzed and understood just like any other person,” MacDaniel said. “Shakespeare’s characters are real people to me so I always think of them in that way.”
MacDaniel’s job is to translate his understanding of these characters in a historical context and help turn that into a stellar performance by the show’s actors.
Joe Inscoe, the actor playing King Lear, also had an important role in characterization.
“I’ve had plenty of time to delve into the massive amount of material devoted to one of Shakespeare’s most complex and demanding characters,” Inscoe said. “From critical essays several centuries old to YouTube interviews of actors who’ve played the role, and directors who’ve tackled this tragedy.”
Research like this, while certainly not exclusive to Shakespearean works, is definitely a notable aspect of the 17th-century playwright’s revered scripts.
“I was astonished, at first, particularly by how many questions have never been answered definitively, and never will,” Inscoe said. “The choices left to actors and directors seem limitless.”
A definitive theme throughout the performance is the internal battle between Lear and his own madness. Inscoe was able to resonate and characterize his role through his own personal experience with dementia.
Inscoe’s father suffered from dementia, which plagued him in his final years and was very traumatic for Inscoe.
“He frequently showed wonder at re-discovering common things, as though experiencing them for the first time,” Inscoe said. “That particular event resonated loudly for me as I read ‘(King) Lear’ for the first time since college, forty years ago.”
Inscoe also utilized the works of the great neuroscientist Oliver Sacks with his characterization of Lear.
“In his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks had written about such symptoms of dementia, and in a way that made them seem newly observed. But Shakespeare had obviously observed them and recorded them in King Lear in 1608,” Inscoe said.
Inscoe reflects back on his experience with Quill Theatre and the production with admiration.
“My experience of working with Quill has been a great one. Addie Barnhart, their director of education worked many hours with me on learning and running lines, and no one could have greater support from a director than I’ve had with Jan Powell,” said Inscoe.
Inscoe has performed in one other Shakespearian play, Much Ado About Nothing, in which he played the role of Leonato.
“There’s a love of Shakespeare that seems almost palpable within this company. Working on this project with Dr. Jan Powell and so many others who are bona fide Shakespearean scholars and experts,” said Inscoe, “I felt almost embarrassed that I’d only performed in one other of the Bard’s works some thirty years ago.”