It's really fall now. Days are crisp and bright, nights begin to be cold. This is perhaps my favorite time of year – it's great to be outdoors, and equally wonderful to be curled up around a book. Book in hand now, and for the next month-and-change, is Shakespeare's King Lear. I have become a member of a theater company called Project Rushmore Theatre that has been offering two play readings a month off and on for about two years now. Lear is coming up in November, and I am part of the cast.
When I learned that I would be in the play, I read it several times over, and will be doing that again. And again. The more familiar it becomes, and the more I think about the characters and what they do to each other, the more I know I have seen this before. There is precious little that happens in families that's not in the play. Though the language is heightened and the events extreme, I recognize the people.
I know a brother and sister whose parents both lived to be 100. The grieving "children" at the funeral were in their mid-70s. How much frustration developed in children whose parents never let them rule their own lives, and who were still being told how to live when they were grandparents themselves?
I know another family in which the parents dangled their power – which was money, the "grand" inheritance – over the heads of their children. In this family, you were in or out of favor without much warning. The pecking order was constantly shifting. One day you were the golden one, the next day disinherited because you didn't make the right "I love you so much that…" speech, or run the right errands, or dig up the septic tank when told to (I kid you not!). The parents' divisive tactics wreaked havoc, and the children were constantly at each others' throats. The irony there was that it was actually not all that much money, especially when divided by five, as it eventually was. Those parents are long gone now, but their toxic legacy is the emotional equivalent of a Superfund site, the "gift" that keeps on giving.
I know a woman who has just learned that the faint discordant feeling she's had since first grade that her mother didn't like her was accurate. I know a man whose father left – not died, just up and left – when he was a little boy, and that little boy grew up unfathered and essentially unacknowledged. I know someone whose parent comes to visit, completely takes over the house, and might as well be arriving with a hundred knights, for all the turmoil and upset that ensues.
It's all true. And it's all in the play.
There are so many short clips on YouTube, of different magnificent Lears – Sir Laurence Olivier, Ian Holm, Paul Scofield, to name just a few- that I couldn't choose just one to post. There is even a famous Russian version directed by Grigori Kozintsev. All marvelous. But to see the whole play, go here, to the PBS site. You will see Sir Ian McKellan as Lear, directd by Trevor Nunn, filmed in 2008.