Solid acting, fresh adaptation, make “LEAR” a hit at Parkrose High

Although it uses the words of William Shakespeare, find out why they’re not calling this compelling play “KING LEAR”. It’s the Parkrose High School Thespian Troupe’s best work to date …

The title character, Lear (played by Haley Lusby), contemplates her past and future, on her way to her retirement party.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Parkrose High School Thespian Troupe #1783 is tackling their most challenging work to date – a novel adaptation of the play, “King Lear” by William Shakespeare.

Audiences who saw the first presentations of the production of LEAR this week discovered there isn’t a king or queen – or even knights and dukes – in this play.

“This production is set in the late 1920s, before the end of the ‘jazz era’,” Ms. Zena told us.  She’s Parkrose High School’s drama instructor – also the one who adapted Shakespeare’s classic tragic play for this production.

Her secretary, Fool (played by Kenzie Billick-Smith), stands by, as Lear’s retirement party gets underway.

“It’s the end of the silent film era. The talkies are coming in, and all kinds of changes are coming into the entertainment industry,” Zena continued.

While maintaining Shakespeare’s words, Lear – in this play – is an aging actress who later built a Hollywood movie production studio. She’s considering how to share her company with her daughters, and dealing with a cross-town rival studio.

“It’s a story of greed and excessive pride; about a woman who values her ego more than her family – until she loses everything,” is how Zena describes the arc of the storyline.

Lear’s second eldest daughter, Regan (Kasey Simmons), and her eldest, Goneril (Jessica Davison), scheme about how they’ll take over their mother’s motion picture studio – and perhaps that of another movie mogul in town.

Edgar (Oly Arellano) listens to his scheming, deceitful brother Edmund (Chris Davis), who is setting him up to be disowned by their father – preparatory to taking over the family movie studio.

Gloucester (Derek Rathke) is taken in by Edmond’s lie that Edgar, his illegitimate son, attacked him.

Banished to the hinterlands, Edgar takes on the persona of madman cave-dweller Tom o’ Bedlam.

Characters, making poor decisions, abound
“We read King Lear in class last year last year,” Zena told us. “Our drama students connected with the characters, and could see they were clearly making many really poor choices. They saw the evil that came from those choices. It was something completely different than what we’ve grappled with before.”

Because so many characters in this play are motivated to behave badly, there are many challenging roles in this production, and the student actors perform them well.

The sleazy Edmund betrays Gloucester to Regan and Goneril. Regan’s weak-willed husband, Cornwall (Jackson Singleton), is goaded into fighting off Lear’s loyal employees.

While Lear’s wicked daughters, Regan and Goneril, hold rival movie producer Gloucester in a chair, Cornwall cuts his eyes out.

Teaching more than how to saying lines
Drama is more than about learning lines and where to walk on stage, Zena said. “It’s about the reality how, as human beings, we do the same things. We have a path to choose, when roads diverge – metaphorically speaking.

“We can continue going down the trail of bad decisions. Or, we can learn that we can move on as better people. In this play, the students have to learn along with these characters, who never learned ways to make better decisions.”

Students help run the show. During intermission, we get a smile from Nick Singleton on the lighting control board, Emily Weatherford, the show’s stage manager, and Kelsey Hawes, audio engineer.

Study of the dramatic arts serves students well, whether or not they decide to continue theater studies in college – or beyond – Zena believes.

“The starting point of drama is critical thinking. Students have the opportunity to study their own decision-making processes. Dramatic stories are about the pursuit of an objective, facing obstacles, and developing tactics to overcome the obstacles. Either on stage, or in real life, learning this way of thinking is a valuable life skill.”

So many questions, so little time …

Why is the married Goneril having a romantic “drink for two” with the sly and sleazy Edmund?

Why is that cad, Edmund, smooching the married Regan?

Could it be that, Edgar in the guise of Tom o’ Bedlam, is fooling around with the once mighty and now fallen, Lear?

Why is Lear’s youngest, and pure daughter, Cordellia (played by Heather Grassel) lay dead in her mother’s arms?

Show continues on May 20 and 21
Find out how this story ends when the curtain goes up on Shakespeare’s LEAR at their final two nights, May 20 and 21, at 7:00 p.m.

> Be advised: This isn’t a show for little tykes, but it is suitable for children 12 years and above.

A full evening of love, treachery, deceit and murder – and a couple of realistic stage fights – (with no regrets in the morning) costs only $8 for adults, and $5 for students (18 & under) and Seniors (age 65 and over). Buy your tickets online right now! CLICK HERE to be taken to the “Seat Yourself” ticket site.

For more information or group seating contact Ms. Zena at (503) 408-2621, or e-mail her at

The Parkrose High School Theater is located at 12003 NE Shaver Street, just west of NE 122nd Avenue.

With a cast and crew of 50, the Parkrose High School Thespian Troupe #1783 production of LEAR is a great way to enjoy classic literature!

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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