September in Pittsburgh brings free Shakespeare productions to the city’s beautiful parks. For its 11th season, Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks presents the Bard’s most personal political drama, King Lear, for nine performances in three city parks over four weekends, Sept. 5-27.
Directed by Jeffrey Chips, King Lear features local favorite Ron Siebert as Lear and PSIP Artistic Director and Founder Jennifer Tober as Edmund/Oswald.
Playing in Frick, Schenley, and Arsenal Parks from September 5 through 27, King Lear brings a small, feisty cast of 8 (4 women and 4 men) who are present onstage throughout the show, creating the misenscene with their bodies and voices, and crafting an action-packed tragedy accessible to all ages and Shakespeare lovers and novices alike.
The PSIP production of King Lear—the first production of this compelling tragedy performed in Pittsburgh in many years—provides audiences with rare access to a masterpiece through dramatic storytelling and imaginative staging.
After aging monarch Lear divides his kingdom among his three daughters, he descends into madness. Filled with political intrigue, betrayal, and death, Lear’s world is one in which good does not necessarily triumph over evil. In his fragmented kingdom, life is often unjust, and suffering is arbitrary and inevitable.
“We are very excited that Ron Siebert is playing King Lear,” says Tober. “We have been planning this show around Ron for several years.”
Siebert, a versatile and seasoned actor known to regional audiences for appearances including the title role in Tuesdays with Morrie at St. Vincent’s Theater, has appeared on Broadway, in American regional theaters, and in TV and film. For PSIP, he portrayed Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet in 2013.
For King Lear, director Jeffrey Chips, who performed in The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet with the company, has embraced the PISP aesthetic, eliminating all sets, lights, sound, or special effects, and focusing on the actor and the audience.
The slate of more than a dozen characters are played by eight actors: Nick Benninger, Tonya Lynn, Andrew Miller, Jessica Moore, Adam Rutledge, and Madelyn Tomko. They portray Lear’s daughter Regan, Goneril and Cordelia, the king’s closest Dukes and Earls, Gloucester and his sons Edgar and Edmund, and the King’s Fool.
A lively pre-show featuring some cast members is directed by Chuck Beikert features music and audience interaction prior to each Lear performance. In addition, varied storytelling and performances for all ages is provided in the half hour prior to each performance by the youth troupe Falstaff’s Fellows or PSIP artists Alan Irvine or Yvonne Hudson. [see below or website for details].
Perennial company favorites Lisa Liebering and Tonya Lynn return as production designer and fight choreographer, respectively, creating the details of Lear’s world in the outdoor setting and physical action.
ABOUT PSIP’S KING LEAR
“I love the idea of the ‘yin/yang’ aspect of the play, and by casting only these eight actors, we can explore the great opposition and struggles of the characters at work,” says Chips. “These actors remain present within the audience for the entire show, make character changes in full view, and talk with the audience while amongst them.”
Tober adds, “Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks’ productions are energetic and in your face. And the performers make the language come alive in a way that even the youngest audience members get it. We often, in fact, have kids – and adults! – become involved in the action and talk back to the actors. Our productions are not ‘doublet-and-hose’ Shakespeare—our shows are rough and tumble.”
Audience members sit on blankets or their own chairs and move as the action roves about each park, involving the audience in a very immediate way.
Admission is free with audience donations accepted to help underwrite production costs.
King Lear is presented each Saturday and Sunday in September:
Sept. 5 and 6 at 2 pm, Frick Park, Beechwood Blvd. and Nicholson St, Squirrel Hill.
Sept. 12 and 13 at 2 pm, Arsenal Park, 40th and Butler Streets, Lawrenceville.
Sept. 19 and 20 at 2 pm, Schenley Park, Schenley Drive and Frew Street at Flagstaff Hill (across from Phipps), Oakland.
Sept. 26 at 11 am and repeating at 2:30 pm; and September 27 at 2 pm, Frick Park, Beechwood Blvd, and Nicholson St, Squirrel Hill.
In the half hour prior to each performance, retellings of King Lear provide varied versions story for all ages: “Mrs Shakespeare’s Storytime”, presented by Yvonne Hudson (Saturdays, Sept. 5 and 12); Falstaff’s Fellows, performing a version of King Lear for kids by kids (Sundays, Sept. 20 and 27); and storyteller Alan Irvine entertaining with his tale of Lear for the remaining performances (Sept. 6, 13, 19 and 26).
RAIN OR SHINE POLICY: PSIP performs in the rain as long as there is an audience present. Exceptions to this policy involve situations that could place the audience and/or actors in danger, including, but not limited to, the presence of thunder or lightning.
For more details on the production, players, and performance settings, visit PittsburghShakespeare.org. Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks is on Facebook and tweets from @PghShakespeare.
MORE ON PSIP FEATURED ARTISTS
Jeffrey Chips (director) has staged many Shakespeare works including Twelfth Night (Steel City Shakespeare Center), Double Falsehood (Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, VA), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Tailgate Shakespeare, Staunton, VA), and Measure for Measure (Circle in the Water Theatre Company, Pittsburgh), in addition to frequently acting with PSIP. He earned M.Litt. and MFA degrees in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, Virginia, where he trained at the American Shakespeare Center. He is an alumnus of Allegheny College.
Ron Siebert (King Lear) has worked professionally in more than 60 theatres across America. He appeared on Broadway in the The Changing Room and with James Earl Jones in The Iceman Cometh at Circle in The Square Theatre. Sibert played the titles roles in The Misanthrope, Macbeth, and Titus Andronicus, in addition to many Shakespearean roles. At Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, he was Poins in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, along with George Hearn, David Selby and Pittsburgh’s own Tom Atkins. He has appeared with regional companies including Indiana Rep, Florida Rep, Florida Studio Theatre, GEVA Theatre in Rochester, NY. In the Pittsburgh region—in addition to appearing as Friar Laurence in PSIP’s Romeo and Juliet—he was seen as: Uncle Peck in How I Learned to Drive, Off The Wall Theatre; the title role in Lamarck, Playhouse; Morrie Schwartz in Tuesdays with Morrie, Mountain Playhouse; and Jerome Watkins in Henceforth, PICT Classic Theatre. In television, Siebert appeared in most of the daytime dramas broadcast from New York, co-starred in “The Ghost of H.L. Menken”, and as the younger Charles Francis Adams II in PBS’ acclaimed “The Adams Chronicles”. Siebert earned a bachelor’s degree at University of Wisconsin and a MFA at Brandeis University.
Jennifer Tober (Edmund/Oswalt) is a director, teacher, and actor seen frequently in regional productions. She founded PSIP in 2005. Her professional appearances include: Out of This Furnace, The Tempest and Macbeth 3 with Unseam’d Shakespeare; The Red Shoes and Dream of Autumn with Quantum Theatre; Salome and Pillowman with PICT Classic Theatre; and Rope and The Queens at Playhouse REP. Tober founded Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks upon moving to Pittsburgh in 2005 and played the leading role of Rosalind in PSIP’s production of As You Like It in 2014, directed by Lisa Ann Goldsmith.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARKS
Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park’s mission is to bring accessible, high quality free Shakespeare to Pittsburgh citizens and to encourage the enjoyment and preservation of our national public places and parks. Since its founding in 2005, the nonprofit company has presented 10 productions, the Bring Your Own Bard (BYOB) reading series, Week of Will 2014, and other events celebrating Shakespeare’s life and works.