LEAR and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: Role Reversal
Opening of shows are magical times. Especially Shakespeare done by the wonderful company at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. To get to experience two openings (Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in less than twenty-four hours is enough to make me think that maybe I died and went to heaven. And then I came home and got to see the Tony Awards – and to revel in the glorious acceptance speech of Mark Rylance as he accepted for his role as The Countess Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Alan and I had seen him perform this role as well as the title role in Richard III this season in New York. Breathtaking.
Here is a question I am left hanging with this fine day…
How come it is accepted, wonderful, okay, imaginative and something to celebrate when a man plays the role of a woman in Shakespeare…but when a woman plays the role of a man the whole world is turned upside down?
Theatricum, long known for “non-traditional” casting has really taken a huge risk with role reversals this year. Ellen Geer and her sister Melora Marshall not only play Lear and The Fool respectively, but co-direct as well. Ellen came up with the concept of having a “Queen” Lear with three sons and an Earl of Gloucester (played by Alan Blumenfeld) with two daughters. The result is extraordinary.
In Shakespeare’s play, King Lear has three daughters and The Earl of Gloucester has two sons. When you see a “regular” production of King Lear – and I’ve seen a ton of them – you know what to expect. The tragedy can be moving – but it is contained. It doesn’t get into your mind and heart and really turn things upside down. You know from the top what “ride” you are on.
But here, because of the women taking on the roles of men, it is like the ride is brand new. A no holds barred roller coaster of emotion – a real catharsis. And yet…many male playgoers were quite disturbed by the production. Just couldn’t get past how it “just isn’t the same”.
Katherine Griffith as Bottom the Weaver in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is brilliant. I will venture to say that she is one of the best Nick Bottoms that I have ever seen. I laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed. What a performance! And yet, again, there were some “boys” who just “don’t get it”.
My credentials as far as seeing many productions over my lifetime of both these shows are as follows. I think the first production I saw of this play was the one my father directed when I was about three years old. Outdoors on the island in the lagoon at N.I.U. I played Hermia opposite Dan Castellaneta’s Lysander. I’ve seen it LOTS. My first of King Lear was when I was twelve years old at The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. Again, I’ve seen it many, many, many times.
The men who were complaining have also had experiences playing in and seeing these classic pieces. They also think that Rylance is brilliant as Olivia. But so many just can’t get past “it”. Of course, Alan Blumenfeld is not one of them, which may be one of the reasons why we have this 40 year relationship.
What’s in this for lawyers? Other than to grab your picnic basket, get to Theatricum as fast as you can and judge for yourselves?
For me, it goes way past women in the courtroom as lawyers and judges. When a woman plays a role in the story of a case or does something “non traditional” for a living I can see the wheels turning on the trial team:
“How are we going to explain that our client was a stay-at-home dad and we are claiming lost wages for him?”
“The jurors aren’t going to like it that she’s the CEO of a big company. Especially the women on the jury. How are we going to reframe that?”
“Who is going to believe a woman came up with that idea for a patent? It’s not like it’s a stroller or a new kind of cooking pot.”
I recently commented on a really disturbing article in The Jury Expert about women expert witnesses that implied that women should only be used as experts in “soft” areas. Like testifying about clothing manufacturing but staying away from “masculine” areas like accounting. Scared the daylights out of me.
What if this idea of role reversal shook your case to the foundation so that the jurors saw it in a whole new light? Supposing opposing counsel was so taken aback by experiencing the story of your case in a new way, that settlement became a heck of a lot easier? What if instead of problematic, this “gender reversal” actually excited you so much that you saw the case in a whole new simpler and more winnable way?
TIP: What if you turned your case upside down? What might it get you?
Photos by Ian Flanders.