After helming the New Mexico Shakespeare Festival director’s chair for four years, Peter Kierst is taking the stage.
Kierst will star in “King Lear” through Sept. 3, at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial and the Westside Open Space Visitor Center, presented by the Vortex Theatre Company. The company will alternate “King Lear” with the comedy “As You Like It.”
Shakespeare based the tragedy of “King Lear” on the mythological Leir of Britain. King Lear, in preparation for his old age, divides his power and land to two of his daughters. He becomes destitute and insane and a proscribed crux of political machinations.
Peter Kierst asked his wife Debi to direct the play and she stipulated, “Only if you play King Lear.”
Widely regarded as Shakespeare’s crowning achievement, this marks the first time the company has produced “King Lear.”
“It’s like a lot of Shakespeare’s plays to me,” Peter Kierst said. “It’s primarily about the relationship between parents and children. It’s very interested in the demands parents put on children and the demands children place on parents. Nothing hurts us more than when those expectations and hopes are unfulfilled.”
King Lear announces his intention to divide his kingdom into three and asks which of his daughters loves him most. He exiles Cordelia and splits his land between his other two daughters. “Cordelia says, ‘I love you and I’m not playing this game,’ ” Kierst said. “He banishes her and the other two turn on him. It drives him mad.”
But Shakespeare’s tragedies usually contain a grain of hope. In the end, Lear reconciles with Cordelia when he realizes what is most important to him.
Debi Kierst has set the play in an almost futuristic atmosphere.
The original story took place in 800 B.C., she said.
“It took place at a time when there were stone circles,” she said. “We’re putting it in a modern setting with Shakespeare’s English. We’ve got people dressed in haute couture suits, but it’s the same thing. (Lear) has got a huge ego and has the tragic flaw that his emotions are extreme and he lashes out at his daughter. You see a man who must have been a good king at one point. There are too many people who believe in him.”
The troupe is pairing “King Lear” with the frothy “As You Like It.” Rosalind and her cousin escape into the forest and find Orlando, Rosalind’s love. Disguised as a boy shepherd, Rosalind has Orlando woo her under the guise of “curing” him of his love for Rosalind. Rosalind reveals she is a girl and marries Orlando during a group wedding at the end of the play.
“There’s a lot of music, a lot of singing,” Peter Kierst said. “It’s a Shakesperian comedy, so there’s lots of mistaken identities.”
“As You Like It” stars Alaina Beth Reel as Rosalind, Versai Knight as Celia and Levi Gore as Orlando.