As more and more COVID-19 vaccines are distributed daily in the metro area, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival has its hopes set high for its monthlong run of King Lear, from June 2 to 27 in Shakespeare Glen, adjacent to the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The festival’s producing artistic director Tom Ridgely and his staff are carefully monitoring the scientific landscape and the guidelines of health officials in St. Louis to determine proper safety protocols for the show’s staff, cast and audiences.
As of mid-April, when this article was written, outdoor events in that municipality are restricted to 32 percent capacity, or approximately 1,000 people per night for presentations of King Lear in a socially distanced layout at Shakespeare Glen. Patrons of such events are required to wear masks, as well.
The innovative presentation of King Lear will feature an entire BIPOC (“Black, Indigenous, People of Color”) cast led by André De Shields in the title role.
Directing the production will be Carl Cofield, associate artistic director of The Classical Theatre of Harlem, whose credits include direction of the world premiere of One Night in Miami, as well as Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Henry IV and Antigone.
The technical staff includes Broadway designer Wilson Chin as set designer, costume designer Mika Eubanks, music and sound designer David R. Molina and lighting designer John Wylie. The cast features St. Louis performers Rayme Cornell, Jacqueline Thompson, J. Samuel Davis, Carl Overly Jr., Brian McKinley and Tyler White, as well as Leland Fowler, Allen Gilmore, Kentrell Jamison, Atum Jones, Jason J. Little, Theorri London, Daniel José Molina, Michael Tran, Brian Anthony Wilson and Christina Yancy.
De Shields won an acting “triple crown” in 2019 for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as Hermes in the Broadway hit Hadestown. He followed that up in 2020 with a Grammy award for Musical Theater Album, also for Hadestown. During a career spanning more than half a century, De Shields has performed in such shows as The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and The Full Monty and has been inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
As most folks know, King Lear ranks among Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and focuses on the tribulations that befall the English king after he decides to retire – only to be fooled by fake professions of love from his daughters Goneril and Regan. In turn, he banishes his youngest daughter, Cordelia, the only honest one of the three. As Lear is manipulated by his elder daughters, their husbands and others, he descends into madness.
Stay safe – and enjoy the highly anticipated debut of this groundbreaking rendition of one of the Bard’s greatest plays!
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, 5715 Elizabeth Ave., St. Louis, 314-531-9800, stlshakes.org