The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival this year turns to one of the Bard’s great tragedies: “King Lear,” the tale of an aging king’s descent into madness and who realizes too late the catastrophic consequences of his foolish, narcissistic decisions.
The festival produced “Lear” once before, in 2000.
As previously reported, one of the city’s most respected actors, John Rensenhouse, will play the title role. According to the festival’s recent announcement of the full cast, he’ll be joined by an impressive company of players based in Kansas City, New York and Chicago.
Most of the principal roles will be filled by festival veterans. Collectively, this cast represents the cream of classically trained actors associated with Kansas City theater.
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Lear’s daughters will be played by Emily Peterson (the righteous Cordelia, who refuses to flatter her father), Kim Martin-Cotten (the scheming Goneril) and Cinnamon Schultz (the power-hungry Regan). Martin-Cotten, by the way, played Lady Macbeth to Rensenhouse’s Macbeth in 2011. She also played Goneril in the heralded production of “Lear” at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre with Stacy Keach in the title role.
Mark Robbins, who just delivered a dynamite performance as Roy Cohn in Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of “Angels in America,” appears as the Earl of Gloucester. Gloucester, like Lear, suffers horrific consequences after misjudging his offspring.
As Edgar, Gloucester’s virtuous exiled son, Jacques Roy returns to the festival. (Festivalgoers will recall his dazzling athletic performance as Puck in the 2012 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”) As his illegitimate, treacherous brother Edmund, Kyle Hatley, KC Rep’s resident director who performed the remarkable one-man show “An Iliad” in January, makes his festival debut.
Brian Paulette appears as the sadistic Cornwall, husband to Regan. As the Fool, Lear’s companion and conscience, Phil Fiorini returns to the festival stage. Matthew Rapport, a fine character actor familiar to festivalgoers, plays the loyal Kent.
Other performers from previous editions of the festival include Ben Auxier, Taylor St. John, J. Will Fritz, Collin Vorbeck, Andy Perkins and Sam Cordes. Making their festival debuts are Kristopher Stoker, R.H. Wilhoit, Teddy Trice and Jacob Aaron Cullum.
Worth noting is the presence in the cast of couples who are married or who will be in the near future. Martin-Cotten and Roy are spouses, as are Schultz and Paulette. And Hatley and Peterson are engaged. Shakespearean comedies, of course, conclude with multiple weddings and good feelings all around. Most of the characters played by these couples, however, meet a bad end.
“King Lear” runs June 16-July 5 in Southmoreland Park, between Oak Street and Warwick Boulevard just west of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. This year’s schedule includes a July Fourth performance.
Opening this weekend
“God of Carnage,” by French playwright Yasmina Reza, begins Friday at the Olathe Civic Theatre Association. The British playwright Christopher Hampton translated the piece into English. The play depicts two respectable couples who meet to have a civilized discussion of a playground incident involving their children.
As the meeting wears on, nerves become frayed and mutual hostility rises. Darren Sextro directs. Performances begin Friday and continue through April 26. The theater is at 500 E. Loula St., Olathe. Call 913-782-2990 or go to OlatheTheatre.org.
John Steinbeck’s poetic and bleak Depression-era tale “Of Mice and Men” begins Saturday at White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, 5801 W 115th St., Leawood. Steinbeck adapted his own novel for this stage play about two drifters who sign on as ranch hands in California and fall victim to forces beyond their control.