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'King Lear' on a Diet: Alchemist Theatre Premieres Slimmed-Down Shakespeare

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Daniel DiMarco/Flickr
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King Lear comes to Bay View's Kadish Park.

Shakespeare in the summer. There’s just something especially inviting about seeing some of the greatest plays in the English canon during the warm days of July.

Currently, As You Like It is on view at Kadish Park, and across town, in Bay View, The Alchemist Theatre just opened their production of King Lear, Shakespeare’s timeless story of parental love, filial duty, age, power and powerlessness, and madness.

“I think any male actor, if they’re given the opportunity, in the back of their mind they always think, Well, what are the roles that I’d really like to play before I pass away?” says actor Bo Johnson of performing the title role. “King Lear is definitely on the list.”

The Alchemist Theatre takes on a big challenge in putting on this play, which in its complete, unabridged version pushes near the four-hour mark. So, with all respect to Mr. Shakespeare, they cut some of the more flowery parts and trimmed King Lear to a thin 2 hours and 30 minutes.

“It’s the summer and we’re inside in a 60-seat theater and I think it should move along” says director Leda Hoffman.

As an often dark play, Hoffman says it’s important to get the story across first and make it accessible. For that reason, The Alchemist combined certain characters--Messenger 3, Spear Holder, Guard 2—and made it less confusing, and a little shorter.

“Next time [the play] will be a lot longer, but they’ll know what they’re getting into," actor Johnson says.

King Lear runs through July 27th.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.