Shakespeare's "King Lear" can be a daunting play for actors. But that changed one night for actor and director Aaron Elmore, as he and other members of Theatre in the Rough rehearsed the Shakespearean drama.
In the scene being rehearsed, King Lear and his daughter were verbally sparring. Beneath the grandiose pageantry of a royal family the human frailties emerged.
"It hit me that these aren't great titans. They're just two people in a family," he said. "It's a really human play. You put it on its feet and it really happens."
Theatre in the Rough, founded by Elmore and his wife Katie Jensen, will perform "King Lear" over the next four weekends at McPhetres Hall. Considered one of Shakespeare's best plays, it involves two parallel story lines, madness, revenge, betrayal and unwavering loyalty.
The general story of Lear was a well-known legend in Shakespeare's time, but the playwright changed the plot considerably for the stage.
The king of ancient England, Lear is ready to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. He arranges a ceremony and demands that his daughters profess their love before he abdicates. His youngest and favorite daughter doesn't want to play the game.
"He puts all this weight on this one special public moment, this declaration of daughters' love," Elmore said. "Families know how to push each other's buttons; he pushes her buttons and she pushes his back. It doesn't go the way he'd hoped."
Lear disowns her. The other sisters are happy to split the kingdom between themselves.
"What he truly hopes is his youngest daughter will take care of him," Elmore said.
Lear will not back down, and the aging monarch is consumed by his bitterness. His kingdom divided, he plans to split his time living with his two daughters, but it doesn't quite work out that way. He can't really give up being the alpha dog, and he isn't a very good guest.
Elmore said the commonly accepted theme in the story is that Lear doesn't see love where he should. Elmore sees another theme.
"I think it's about a culture of revenge and what happens when you build and work your entire life, and everybody around you spends their life building a culture of revenge," Elmore said. "This is Lear's world. He's conquered everything in sight, married his daughters to all the right people, so he thinks, and he decides to retire. But kings don't retire. They're kings 'til they die."
Patrick Moore, a veteran of many Perseverance Theatre productions, plays Lear in his debut with Theatre in the Rough. Lear's daughters are played by Ani Torgerson, Asha Falcon and Doneice Falcon. Andy Ferguson is Kent.
Ferguson, a commercial fisherman and musician, learned his lines on the water last summer when he was trolling for salmon. He's been involved in a number of Theatre in the Rough productions over the few past years, but this is his biggest stage role yet as an actor.
His character, Kent, starts the play in the king's favor, but is banished unjustly when defends the princess Cordelia. He returns to the king's side in disguise as a squire for hire.
"He's the slick primpster in the first scene, then the vagabond wildman for the rest," Ferguson said.
Co-producer Katie Jensen plays the fool, a kind of court jester for Lear who is not as foolish as meets the eye. The fool is a character who appears in many of Shakespeare's plays. Jensen said since "Lear" is one of Shakespeare's later plays, this is probably his most developed and sophisticated fool.
"The first tip-off is when you first read his lines, you don't understand a word you've read. You have to re-read it to undo the riddles," Jensen said.
She called the fool an interesting, hidden character. Although many of his lines are enigmatic she said it's not hard to pick up on his meaning.
"As long as the performer understands it, the audience will understand it," she said.
Jensen and Elmore have transformed McPhetres Hall into an alternate world. The ceiling is covered with 250 yards of blue silk and the walls are draped in black flannel.
A powerful component of the story is a storm, which builds as Lear's madness intensifies. Offstage actor-musicians wield four large drums, two rainsticks and a giant, 4-by-8-foot sheet of galvanized steel to bring the storm to life.
The parallel story involves Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, who plots to frame his brother Edgar and cheat him out of his inheritance and title. Zach Falcon and Elmore play the brothers, and Mike Peterson is the Earl.
Edgar, as well as Cordelia and Kent, remain loyal despite the hardships they face, and Elmore said that serves as a kind of counterpoint to the revenge element in the play.
"King Lear" also features Peter Freer, Bill Thompson, Taimhyr Ensor Estes, Ben Brown and Rick Bundy.
All performances are at 7:30 p.m. in McPhetres Hall at Fourth and Gold streets. There will be a dress rehearsal performance Thursday, Oct. 24. The show opens Saturday, Oct. 26. There will be one Sunday performance on Oct. 27. All other performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, through Nov. 16.