Lear's Shadow: Coming Soon to a Festival Near You
Lear's Shadow will soon be making the tour of the film festivals, starting with the Pasadena International Film Festival on March 11. In the meantime, special screenings are making the tour of the Shakespeare blogs.
The film is a stripped-down, bare bones show, all the more impressive for how much it accomplishes. The premise gradually unfolds in a single setting—a theatre's rehearsal space. A somewhat-confused director—Jack—makes his way in, followed by an actor—Stephen. Jack starts complaining about the scripts and the other actors who haven't shown up. We start to realize that Jack has some sort of short-term memory loss and he's just been released from the hospital.
Stephen, at first as a delaying tactic, starts to talk about King Lear. That's the launching pad for a number of discussions of the play—how it ought to be acted, how it has been acted, what significance it has—as well as a number of performances of key scenes. It becomes something of a mirror movie at that point, the two men working out some longstanding disagreements as well as the recent events that have brought them to such a state.
And that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot. I hope the film will do well on the festival circuit and that it will eventually achieve larger distribution. I hope that because it's good. It's quite good.
First, I was impressed by the acting. I'm privileged to see a lot of work that hasn't made it to a theatrical release, and a good premise is sometimes played out in a less-than-satisfying manner. That's not the case here. Both in acting their roles and in their roles acting parts of King Lear, David Blue and Fred Cross do magnificent work.
Second, the use of Shakespeare is fascinating here. The writer isn't setting out to make Shakespeare relevant—I get them impression that he knows that Shakespeare is already relevant. Instead, Lear's Shadow reveals Shakespeare's relevance. Parts of King Lear are carefully, organically crafted in to the film, and we're shown one way the suffering of King Lear becomes significant, meaningful, and healing to other sufferers in the world.
If you're able to catch this at a film festival, do so. It's a powerful piece where writing, acting, and concept come together to produce a significant reflection on Shakespeare that stands on its own as well.
Shakespeare Geek Review
By Duane Morin
A rehearsal room, dark. Enter JACK through the curtains, directly from outside as we see cars driving past. He rolls a single, lit
incandescent lamp to center, and opens the curtains. We see folding tables on which sit copies of Romeo and Juliet by William
Shakespeare. JACK picks one up and starts swearing.
Enter a younger man, STEPHEN, on the phone and holding a neck brace. He’s clearly been looking for JACK and is relieved to find him.
Thus opens Lear’s Shadow, written and directed by Brian Elerding, which I had the pleasure of watching yesterday at Mr. Elerding’s invitation.
We quickly learn that something bad has happened, though what we do not yet know. Jack is bruised, Stephen is trying to get him back into the neck brace, so those are some obvious clues. More telling, however, is that Jack – our director – seems to have no real idea where or when he is. He doesn’t know what play they’re rehearsing (hence his anger at seeing Romeo and Juliet scripts) or why no one else has shown up for rehearsal.
Stephen’s job is to keep Jack talking until Rachel (who Stephen was speaking with on the phone) can bring the car around. They reminisce about other plays they’ve done together, before landing on King Lear. Jack keeps re-realizing that the scripts are wrong, and doesn’t know the date. Stephen takes it upon himself to walk through the play with Jack.
For the next hour the two debate the finer details of Lear – what scenes and lines can be cut, how to deliver certain lines, where to “start” so you have “somewhere to go”. If you love being a fly on the wall during conversations like this (as I do) you’re going to greatly enjoy this. I do not fancy myself an actor, never have, so I like to watch them work at their craft without trying to put myself in their place.
Of course none of this is random, we’ve got a man who has lost his memory and has clearly had some tragedy befall him doing what amounts to a one man show about a man who has lost his memory upon which many tragedies fall. It’s a reminder that while King Lear may have been written five hundred years ago it could also have happened yesterday.
Though I’m watching this as a movie it reminds me of going to theatre back when I was a younger man. It’s a bare stage two man show, just dialogue, no real plot to speak of other than toward the ultimate answer to the “What happened?” question (which we may or may not receive).
If you believe that Shakespeare makes life better, even when it brings tears rather than laughter, then of course you’re going to like this. It’s very reminiscent of when Slings & Arrows did Lear, a connection the director and I already spoke of. “There’s no way I wasn’t influenced by Slings & Arrows,” he wrote. That’s intended as high praise. I’m not saying “This is trying to be Slings & Arrows,” I’m saying, “I’d watch an entire season of this like I’d watch a season of Slings & Arrows.”
Broadway World Review
Ensemble Shakespeare Theatre Transforms Tragedy Using Theatre in LEAR'S SHADOW
LEAR'S SHADOW, a new play by Shakespeare Ensemble Theater Artistic Director, Brian Elerding, is a sensitive exploration of theatre's transformative ability to heal, even under the most devastating of circumstances. Using passages from King Lear as a tool within a contemporary storyline, it takes a thoughtful and surprisingly candid approach to the subject of loss.
The set-up is a rehearsal room with the audience seated at tables arranged for what appears to be a table read. Jack (Fred Cross) arrives in a wheelchair and is clearly in distress. Uncertain of his surroundings and exhibiting subtle behavioral quirks that signal something isn't right, he searches to remember the missing pieces. Enter Stephen (David Blue), a young man who reveals that Jack is head of Stephen's acting company. Jack thinks he is preparing to conduct a rehearsal but the scripts on the tables are the wrong play.
As Jack's frustration builds, Stephen stumbles upon a way to calm the older man by asking him to talk through the plot of King Lear with him. Jack admits that he has always wanted to take the subplot out and do only the Lear scenes. The dialogue that follows is both humorous and poignant.
Elerding directs the play in the round which adds an acute intimacy to the scenes. Most of the 70 minutes is a verbal dance for two making casting critical. Cross and Blue are equally compelling, handling both modern conversation and Shakespearean verse with ease. It is particularly affecting to watch Cross struggle with the loss of his short term memory as Jack, but then transform into an entirely different person, full of confidence and vigor, when he launches into King Lear's scenes.
Blue artfully portrays all of the remaining characters, including the king's three daughters, Lear's Fool, and the Earl of Kent, while seamlessly responding to an endless stream of tonal changes. When the depth of his own suffering finally breaks through the surface, the moment is electric. Katie Peabody (as Jack's daughter Rachel) adds a quiet intensity.
LEAR'S SHADOW is a fine new play, with courageous performances, that borrows from Shakespeare to mend a mind when it seems nothing else can. As a dialogue for healing, it is both relatable and transformational.
There is a great deal more to discuss but it is best left until after you see the play. A spoiler in the program (don't worry, it comes with an alert so you won't read it accidentally) will give those who want more information a leg up before they see the show, but I suggest waiting until it ends to read it. Much of the dramatic tension comes from the slow revelation of what has happened offstage before the play begins. Its rhythm builds throughout the piece delivering a potent message about our resiliency as human beings.