I was walking down the street the other day, on my way to il dayjobo, when I noticed a woman wearing boots with the kind of impossibly narrow and tall heel I see in anime, and believe to be a physical impossibility. She was having no trouble with them, and I considered asking her if she'd stilt with me some time, but then I noticed that the boots were black leather and patterned somewhere between a musketeer's and some kind of glam paratrooper. Aggressive boots. Which got me thinking.
Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of concept-heavy theatre. There's a great temptation to do it with Shakespeare, and many arguments for and against such approaches. I like my concepts light, and with little-to-no discernible influence on the dramatic action of the play, especially when it comes to The Bard. After all, the play's the thing. Don't change the ending of Hamlet. Face my wrath. That having been said, and in honor of beginning work on a clown version of the Romeo & Juliet story, I decided to share what this woman's boots got me thinking on.
A lot's been done with King Lear. I was in a Suzuki-styled production set in a sanitarium (molto originale), there was a recent movie called A Thousand Acres that set the story in rural America of the 90s, and of course there's Ran, Akiro Kurosawa's feudal-Japan take on the thing. It's been done to death. Still, these things get done to death because they resonate. It's a play about the anguish of youthful ambition and oncoming mortality, and that don't ever go away for we humans. So it may be done to death, and my ideas may fall far short of being original, but a strong idea benefits from expression.
I wonder how the play would change if it were the love of sons rather than daughters that incited the action? Lear has so many family relationships through it that in many ways it's all about family, so I got to wondering about that. Suppose Cordelia, Regan and Goneril were -- I don't know -- Corey, Ronald and Gary. They act completely the same, but have wives (or an imagined future bride, in Corey's case) they involve, and their possession of the inheritance is more assured. Not sure if Lear should be a father or mother in this case, and not sure if that altogether matters.
Once I'm imagining the story this way, I immediately want to set it in an urban, contemporary environment. Perhaps amongst some entitled New York family. There is a film version of Hamlet that does this (with Ethan Hawke) and, in my opinion, fails spectacularly to play past the adaptation, but I feel the idea can be done well. In this environment, the sons can be fairly underspoken, manipulative and cruel and it seems quite normal to us; masterminds of business, or media. Their wives take more direct action, but this is fitting in a contemporary environment as well. I can also see Lear (be he or she) as descended to a homeless state very clearly in this setting, and wonder how all the nature imagery might translate to an urban environment.
From here I wonder what else I can alter without getting in the way of the story. Suppose Corey is gay, and that contributes to his estrangement from Lear. It would have to be done without issue; the idea would be to avoid making a statement not found in the original story, to just have it proceed as you expect, but this son is gay. Suppose, too, that Edgar and Edmund are the same person.
WHAT?! I know. I start to doubt myself here, too, but I want to play it out; to play with it. So deal.
Without having read the text in years, I wonder if it could be played in such a way that the E.s are one guy with a personality disorder. I imagine him vaguely as a guy taking prescription medication, young and volatile, freshly returned from treatment. Gloucester, his father, is thereby a bit more justified in his ineffectiveness. He's been through a lot with this kid, who has his good days and his bad, and Gloucester finds him, on his bad days, to be a different sort of bastard. Gloucester also must humor E. in his dual personas, in the hopes of bringing him through to sanity, but everyone around him doesn't know how to respond to this, because it isn't clear how much is his humoring and how much he's come to believe his son is divided in two.
If you're still with me now: Let's go produce, because you are a rare creature.
Gloucester, of course, has his eyes dashed out for him by Cornwall, Regan's husband. Or Caroline, Ronald's wife, in this case. It was the glimpse of those boots that got me thinking about it all. In the production I participated in, I played Cornwall, and we stamped out Gloucester's eyes with my heel. Those boots would make that choice far more ... shall we say, effective. The rest of the ideas rolled out from there.
Violence. Such a potent aphrodisiac for romancing the id.
By this point, of course, I have to imagine the show out of the context of the language. You can subvert some lines here and there to justify cross-casting genders, but combining two characters into one? Introducing contemporary psychological understanding to Mr. Bill Shake-Off-Subtext? No, no. I imagine it now as a contemporary retelling, rest assured. Still and all, William had some unshakable lines. There's no escaping, in the end:
"Howl howl howl howl howl! Oh, you are men of stones! Had I your tongues and eyes I should use them so the heaven's vaults should crack! She is gone, forever..."