No normal person likes King Lear. Playwright Eugene Stickland, however, has recently put a new spin on a piece of literature that was generally on everyone's "do not read" list with Urban Curvz's upcoming production, Queen Lear.
"I think that the script that Eugene has written for this play, for Queen Lear, is beautiful," admits director Vanessa Porteous. "It's very funny, but it kind of sneaks up on you emotionally and you're sort of lulled by the laughs. You see a female character at the beginning of her life and a female character at the end of her life and how they can make a connection."
The play features a story about the need people have for one another with two actresses. Heather (Georgina Beaty) is a modern teen who is very much aware of technology in her life and lacks life experience and the other is Jane (Joyce Doolittle), who is an 81-year-old actress trying to cope with a poor memory while trying to learn the lines to Shakespeare's King Lear. Porteous acknowledges that, although Queen Lear is a very thoughtful play that is sure to provoke sympathy, it's also very funny and entertaining.
"I'm quite amazed that I wrote moments for two female characters that are so touching and that seem to so true," Stickland claims with a laugh. "I would drop my daughter off at Joyce's house, and would think, 'Well that's interesting, a 76-year-old and a 12-year-old and why they're there is to run lines on a play.' There's something fundamentally theatrical about that situation, so I couldn't help myself."
Thus began Queen Lear. However, Stickland knew that he would run into some very difficult problems with trying to cast the play given an incredibly small amount of women who were 80-years-old and willing to act, to the point he worried the script for Queen Lear may never be played.
"But then Joyce convinced me that it should be written for that very reason because there's so few roles for actresses over 70," says Stickland. "We've found in rehearsal that it's probably not the best birthday gift [for Doolittle], because, I respect Joyce Doolittle as a person and as an artist. I'm not making it easy for her. There's a lot of virtuosity that's required to act this role. It'd be hard for a 40-year-old who's at the height of her power. She has to memorize Shakespeare wrong and then correct it."
Porteous says Doolittle's role isn't the only unique part of the production.
"The other element in the show that's really amazing, to me, is that there's a live cello player sitting there the whole show," she explains. "She's the spirit of the beauty of Shakespeare's language, she's the spirit of Jane-- the older character's fear-- of the task, of the past, of growing old, of the music in your head. So there's three women on stage. She's the figment of Jane's imagination."