Outside in and inside out, Bedlam Theatre’s performance of King Lear (in collaboration with four other radical theaters) was wickedly funny and dark. Joining Bedlam Theatre in Lears were Trutheater Theater (Rhode Island), the Nonsense Company (Madison, Wisconsin), The (Loosely) Affiliated with Puppet Uprising Players of Pennsylvania (with Eric Ruin, formerly of Minneapolis), and Insurgent Theater (Milwaukee).
On opening night, June 4th, Bedlam celebrated the two-year anniversary of their $2 program rewarding audience members making alternative transportation choices with $2 off their ticket price (and charging an extra dollar if you drove). The challenge to keep car audiences to zero was taken to heart, as many rode bikes to the Bedlam for the first time. Out of an audience of about 80, about 50 rode their bikes.
At first we were promenaded through the parking lot by a hokum narrator and two spitfire girls, one with banjo, singing about being “Daddy’s Girl” cabaret-style. The first act, performed by Bedlam, featured Maren Ward as a hilarious, hugely menacing, violent King Lear, believing the lying tongues of two vicious, haughty daughters and turning on her favorite daughter, Cornelia—who couldn’t lie nor match the false praise of her siblings, so lost her place in Lear’s heart and kingdom.
Led into the Bedlam bar, the audience lined all the stairs as the actors chased each other up and down the stairs and aired their grievances with audience members, instantly part of the collaboration. Lear committed more barroom violence and threats, outraged by his daughter, and then there was nothing to do but eat the first dessert, eggs—which were pretty sweet (sweet as frosting, and cute). We promenaded outdoors for some bad jokes and heckling from the fool and Lear on the roof, and then inside for one of the strangest, coolest interpretations by one of the collaborating groups—replete with eerie sound effects, creepy mechanical double voices, puppetry, wizardry with video and projection, surreal lighting, and the longest string of insults in history to the knave. It was deliciously Dr.-Who-like, and if it were a music genre it would be heavy metal.
Next came a court scene, where things deteriorated from delightfully witty to deliriously disgusting debauchery—not much easier to stomach than the jelly eyeball we ate. Thankfully, we moved on to another favorite of mine, where the actors performed mimery against a dramatic, yet simple backdrop—like a giant living comic book. Here, fantastic shadow puppetry and words on the screen told of King Lear’s death (as he, a piñata puppet in this act, was beaten to death by the two wicked daughters, and found broken on the floor, guts spewed—candy thrown into the audience, the fourth dessert).
The fifth act, featuring great costumes, British accents and an excellent portrayal of a queen by a boy, much as you’d imagine it being done in Avalon, rapidly became a play within a play as fiery arguments ensued about theatre today and whether Shakespeare was a fascist. Things fell apart, fliers with commentary about the fascism of Shakespeare flew, bodies fell, cupcakes were eaten, and then we were led outdoors to sweet serenade by the actors on the balcony above, under the beautiful golden moon.
Cyn Collins (email@example.com) is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.
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