Saturday, September 11, 2010

King Lear at San Diego's Old Globe

On Wednesday evening I drove fifty miles to the coast where I met my daughter on the Point Loma Nazarene University campus where we boarded the university shuttle with about twenty-five students to Balboa Park. Our tickets for San Diego's Old Globe Theatre's production of King Lear were hot in our hands.

The shuttle driver, who was also attending the performance, drove us along beautiful Harbor Drive at 6:30 in the evening as the sun glinted off San Diego Bay which was dotted by multitudes of moored sailboats, my uncle's boat which he lives on full time, among them. Grey clouds puffed and roiled just off the coast, ready to engulf downtown San Diego as soon as temperatures cooled sufficiently. The driver made the turn onto steep Laurel Street, and we gripped the supports near us, bracing ourselves for the uphill charge from harbor to the top of Banker's Hill where Balboa Park spreads out in green splendor.

In the shadow of the magnificent California Tower nestled The Old Globe Theatre, first built for the 1935 Exposition as a perfect model of Shakespeare's original theater across the Thames from London proper. Now a complex of three theaters and including a lovely cafe for refreshments and a small gift shop (which I must visit each time I see a performance, adding a Shakespeare/Old Globe key chain and a small bust of Shakespeare to my collection, and flanked by beautiful gardens, the Old Globe is a treat in every way. After meeting up with the Literature Department Chair, Carol Blessing, we were ushered toward the Lowell Davies stage, an outdoor theater used for the Summer Shakespeare Festival.

Elizabeth and I were seated amongst a bevy of PLNU lit majors, many of whom had never been to the Old Globe before. We settled in very soon, observing the unusual stage: a raised platform extended into center stage only ten feet from the front edge, rather like a long fishing dock. A balcony flanked each side of the stage a floor above us, with stairs coming down to stage right and stage left. The rest of the stage below the raised dock was scattered with silk autumn leaves, and a large chair, almost throne-like, was perched exactly in the middle of the raised dock. Then, as the play progressed, the back "wall" of the stage ended up being wooden gates that were opened to reveal well-lit trees, some on the park side and some on the zoo side of the boundary of the neighboring San Diego Zoo.

What I love about the Old Globe is its partnership with the University of San Diego MFA Program, a program that my now-defunct MA in English used to take classes with. The actor portraying Cordelia was an USD MFA student, along with several other major parts.

The entire cast was incredible. Robert Foxworth played the aging King Lear to perfection. (I knew I recognized him, but it wasn't until I just checked IMDb that I realized where I saw him recently: as Uncle Jerry in the second Librarian film with Noah Wylie.)

But the standout of the performance was the stage effects. The storm was amazing! Remember, this is an outdoor stage, and the lit trees when the large wooden gates were opened were spectacular, lending an eerie feel to the play. During the storm, the huge lights flashed for lightning, and thunder rumbled so realistically that my seat seemed to tremble. But, most effective of all was the snow storm, made of a bubble machine spewing conglomerations of tiny bubbles into the night air where the spotlights illuminated them from above. When the evening breeze occasionally caught the minuscule bubbles, they drifted out across the audience, landing in my hair, on my sweater, disappearing with the slightest touch of warm fingers. It was truly a chilling and awesome effect.

We walked out of the theater, slightly chilled by the night air, toward the beautifully lit California Tower rising above us in the dark evening sky. We were silenced, moved and awed, by the performance. Good Shakespeare does that to a person.

So we very much enjoyed the play, although several of the neighboring students were complaining about how depressed they felt, especially with still having homework to face after the three-hour performance. The shuttle ride home through the dark San Diego streets was far quieter than the noisy excitement of our arrival while I shared with Rachel, the Lit Department assistant, about books to use for tutoring a reluctant 5th grade student.

After the shuttle dropped us back on campus, I drove E down to her dorm where she made me a PB&J to eat on the way home since I had skipped dinner. I arrived home just at midnight, then had to prepare the handouts Keith had copied for me for our Class Day co-op the following morning. I finally crawled into bed at 2:00 AM, praying I would be able to drag myself out at 7:00 AM to get ready for driving back into San Diego for our first day of Class Day for the school year.

With the grace of God, I somehow made it through the day's teaching and errand-running and back home to collapse into a muddled-puddle of exhaustion.

But Lear was soooo worth it...especially because I was able to see it with my girl.

Admiring the Bard more than ever,


sarah said...

How wonderful! Is she loving dorm life? Are you coping ok with your darling being away? At least she is not too far! Oh and isn't Carol Blessing a marvellous name? :-)

Susanne Barrett said...

She's absolutely loving dorm life. She stayed on campus for the first time over the weekend and I miss her SOOOOO much! But at least we have texting. I'm trying to cope but this weekend has been hard since she's been home the previous two weekends. At least she's only 50 miles away. :)

Yes, Carol Blessing is a lovely name. She started a year after I did, and we share the same area of study: medieval and 16th/17th century, especially Shakespeare. I've been considering returning to teaching at the university part-time to help with E's tuition and also to get back into "real" academic teaching. The woman who hired me is now Interim Dean, so perhaps there's a chance for the next school year. :) I would love to pick up a research class....


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