King Lear

Nine years ago, when the folks at Shakespeare on the Green began performing the Bard’s plays on the artfully landscaped front lawn of Barat College, there was only one other company in the Chicago area performing Shakespeare outdoors, the Festival Theater of Oak Park, now 26 years old. But today, thanks to Hollywood, Shakespeare is very much in vogue and there are no fewer than four companies doing the Bard outside. Shakespeare on the Green is arguably the best. The theater’s founders–producer JoAnne Zielinski, director Karla Koskinen, and managing director Steve Carmichael–can take some of the credit for this. Carmichael’s stage designs are always beautifully precise and spare, and Koskinen’s ensembles always speak the Bard’s words loudly, proudly, and clearly, without succumbing to mere oratory, creating fully realized people onstage. In this year’s production of King Lear, for example, Scott Parkinson–a Shakespeare on the Green regular–as the Fool wrings more feeling out of just standing onstage listening to his betters destroy themselves and the kingdom than most actors do out of the Fool’s lines. Likewise Craig Spidle’s Lear is not a 19th-century caricature of bombast and actorly emoting but a man of many layers being slowly driven mad. Nothing is more disarming than watching him lose his wits one by one as his clothes become subtly disheveled and his hair goes more and more awry. The audience, too, helps account for this company’s success. On a recent Sunday night, the lawn was packed with picnicking couples, blanket-lounging families, and vacationing college students happy to take in some culture at a price that can’t be beat–the shows are free. This relaxed, plentiful audience provides the kind of open, energetic atmosphere that makes good actors great, and great ones stretch for the stars. Barat College, front lawn, 700 E. Westleigh, Lake Forest, 847-604-6344. Through July 30: Thursdays-Sundays, 8 PM. Free (grounds open at 6 PM for picnicking; general seating is available or viewers may bring blankets, and concessions are available for purchase). In case of rain, performances will be held in the Drake Theater.

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still by Diana Jeter.