How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” As some ambitious University of Mobile students could prove, the Shakespearean proverb might need to exchange the viper’s fang for a switchblade.
That’s because an impromptu theatrical troupe from the university’s English Department are staging the Bard’s near-ultimate tragedy “King Lear” — but with a twist. It’s been redressed for modern tastes.
“We’re changing the location so it’s not in Britain but in 1950s New York,” Josh Goldman told Artifice. “Instead of people saying, ‘go get the horses ready,’ we change it to, ‘go get the cars ready,’ or ‘go start the cars’ just because of technology.”
The other big change is occupational. Rather than nobles, this central cast is comprised of mobsters.
“Other than that, the script is going to stay exactly the same,” Goldman said. “We want people to experience Shakespeare in its original format.”
The central plot of Shakespeare’s work seems ideal for this incarnation. It centers on the aging titular ruler and his wishes for dividing his kingdom among his offspring. Two of his daughters make a grandiose show of their adoration while a third merely states that her loves exceeds any description or dramatics.
Lear turns his back on the last child and the other two fall into the foreseeable politics of greed and division. With spoils in hand, they turn their backs on their father and Lear descends into madness at the realization of the treachery he spawned.
Warfare, manipulation and death soon erupt. Scorsese or Shakespeare, royalty or ignobility, some themes transcend time and borders.
In another denial of expectation, this production bursts forth from an artistic discipline you might not assume. Aspiring thespians aren’t the genesis.
“This isn’t part of the Theatre department because that was scrapped a couple of years ago,” Goldman said. “Now all we have is a worship leadership major with a concentration in film. None of our actors are actually that.”
Instead this is an offshoot of the English department. The idea began with a road trip.
“A couple of years ago, our English majors went to see ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. After that, they thought they decided to stage something similar in place of a major research paper,” Goldman said.
Thus, a staple was born. It’s also begat enthusiasm.
“It’s gotten to the point we’re not really doing it for class credit so much as it’s something we really enjoy,” Goldman said. “Some of us would never get on stage were it not for this. We’ve never acted before but it’s a great opportunity for us to learn.”
In shifting the setting, the coincidences of our nation’s history provided relief from rewrites. The state is named after York, England, after all.
“We’re changing some names like the King of France but the cool thing I’ve found is a lot of New York place-names correspond with places in Britain. For example, the Duke of Albany, the Duke of Cornwall, the Earl of Kent, the Earl of Gloucester and all those locations can be found in the general vicinity of New York,” Goldman said.
Following the initial production of “Much Ado About Nothing” in 2012, Goldman found himself in the 2013 cast for “Merchant of Venice” with a small role. Last year, he played Malvolio in “Twelfth Night,” a substantial part.
Among the approximately 20 cast members for this year, Goldman isn’t just playing the Earl of Kent but has additional duties. It’s the senior’s first time in the director’s chair.
“It’s going fairly well but I do have a couple of alumni who have stepped in and helped me as far as drama coaching and some other things,” Goldman said. “I’m doing some of the blocking myself but there are other people with more experience helping with that.”
The hardest part for him has been a shift in attitude. He has drawn on untapped reserves.
“It’s difficult for me to be strict since I’m very, very casual and flexible,” Goldman said. “When people have night classes, I try to get by but then I realized about halfway through you can’t be ‘buddy-buddy’ and be a good director. So I’ve had to buckle down, which is completely against my personality but I’m glad I did it and got a lot out of it.”
Performances are at the University of Mobile’s Weaver Auditorium, April 9, 10 and 11. Curtain is at 6 p.m. each evening and an additional 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 11.
Entrance is free but reservations are needed. Tickets can be reserved by call 251-510-1715.
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