Oakland writer Marcus Gardley gives modern take on King Lear at Cal Shakes

Lear, Cal Shakes, Bruns Amphitheatre until October 2

The world premiere is a poetic reflection of Shakespeare’s story, but reimagined in a modern 21st-century poetic vocabulary that is more accessible to audiences.

On a recent evening, Marcus Gadley’s remarkable modernization of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear Cal Shakes shines brightly with two-story San Francisco houses under the night sky in Olinda.

Scroll down to read our interview with Lear-winning author Marcus Gadley, who said that when he was at Castlemont High School in Oakland, writing screenplays was the last thing he wanted to do.

Much of the show’s action involves Lear’s two conspiracies to deceive his daughters, Lear’s disillusionment with them, and his emerging mental illness. The subplot involves the Earl of Gloucester (the brilliant Michael J. Asbury) and his illegitimate son Edmund (the very scheming Jomar Tagatuck). Unhappy with his bastard status, Edmund cunningly tries to replace his older brother and rightful heir Edgar (effectively Dain Troy). Ultimately, the three daughters and their husbands fought a battle for Lear’s domain – but few survived to see the kingdom resolved and restored.

Gardley adds new and modern elements to Shakespeare’s version. Shakespeare’s Fools are now comics. Convincingly played by Sam Jackson, the comic does some satirical riffs on the political scene. A new character, the Black Queen (the terrific Velina Brown), wears a floor-length white robe and sings soulful songs to the back of a small jazz band (to the wonderful music of Marcus Shelby). Poor Tom (Edgar in disguise) now has the attributes of Uncle Tom.

this production Lear Because this is the final gig for Cal Shakes Artistic Director Eric Ting, there’s a personal bittersweet side to it. After seven years of inspiration, Ting is leaving New York to be with his family. Lear Giving Ting a second chance to work with Gardley after a super successful 2017 black odyssey.

In some ways (dare I say!) Gadley’s Lear Enhance the bard’s King Lear for the modern audience. Although a bit too long for me (it’s one of Shakespeare’s longer plays), Lear It’s great theatre and total fun.

Lear performs at the Bruns Amphitheatre in Cal Shakes on October 2, 2022. The show is approximately three hours long, including a 15-minute intermission. Cal Shakes advises audience members to wear layers of clothing as temperatures can drop during evening performances. Orinda BART offers a free shuttle. Ticket prices range from $35 to $70 (subject to change). 7:30 pm, Sunday 4:00 pm; Proof of vaccination (or recent negative test) is required for admission at 2:00 pm on select Saturdays. Shading is encouraged but not required in outdoor amphitheaters.For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Cal Shakes’ website, or call 510-548-9666.

Marcus Gardley Says Let Your Hair Down and ‘Be Louder’ When You See ‘Lear’

Marcus Gadley, who grew up in Auckland, never thought of becoming a writer, he says Lear Celebrate language and family at Cal Shakes.Courtesy of Cal Shakes

Born and raised in Oakland, Marcus Gardley is a renowned poet, playwright, screenwriter and TV writer. He won the 2022 WGA Award for Best Adapted Feature Series for MAID (Netflix).his play house that can’t stand Made its world premiere with Berkeley Rep in January 2014 and won the 2019 Obie Award. his play, black odyssey, produced by Cal Shakes in 2017.On television, he has written for several series, including Boots Riley’s I am a Virgo (Amazon), Chi (show time), Base (apple), and city ​​story (Netflix).his featured adaptations Purple The musical hits theaters in December 2023, and Warner Bros. just got his Marvin Gaye biopic.

Gadley told us Lear At Cal Shakes, his work in TV and film, growing up in Oakland, and how he grew up as a writer.Interview edited for brevity and clarity

Yes, I go back and forth. I have lived in Los Angeles for about five years. I’ve been working at a TV station now, so I have to live here. But I miss Oakland, my favorite city.

What made you want to set “Lear” in the Fillmore district of San Francisco in the 1960s?

I hope this work is close to home. Most of what I write takes place in the Bay Area. King Lear Resonates with the concepts of homelessness and memory loss. In the play, Lear’s memory has a problem. I’m always talking about what we’ve forgotten as a community. Stories and family heirlooms have been passed down through generations in our community.What is preserved in families and communities is the main theme of this work King Lear.

Did you know anyone who lived in the Fillmore area during that redevelopment?

Yes, my great grandmother did. Growing up, she instilled in me the importance of buying a home in the Bay Area—something to hold on to, something to be proud of. In Oakland, where I grew up, inheriting the house that my family lived in was a big deal. Unfortunately, we’re seeing communities decline because these kids don’t care about the house as much as their parents. That really stayed with me and I wanted to write about that in this show.

Why do you think they gave up their legacy?

Neighborhoods become infected with drugs and become violent. So, some people moved away. They don’t have the same values ​​as their parents and don’t really understand the importance of keeping those homes, so they lose them. Some of them did not pay taxes. Others let them fall to destruction.

How did your version of “King Lear” start?

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissions writers to provide modern translations of every Shakespeare play.My first version was King Lear located in the UK. Then Cal Shakes called me; they loved the show. They wanted me to do it myself. I told them I’d love to have it in the Bay Area, I’ve been obsessed with the Fillmore area since my grandmother passed away. When it was redeveloped and demolished by Autobahn, a lot of the show fit in with Fillmore. There is such a rich history there.

can you tell me the music in it Lear?

It was an exciting adventure, a happy accident. I love music, I love Marcus Shelby. I have worked with him before. I knew I wanted jazz because in the 1960s, Fillmore used to be called the Harlem of the West. We don’t know how jazz will sound in this highly poetic language, but it’s a wonderful marriage.

How much of the original Shakespeare plot from King Lear did you keep?

I keep them all. Without changing the plot, Fillmore’s story and Lear’s story fit together beautifully. It’s like a puzzle piece. It only happens in more specific areas. These characters are more like the people you know in the 1960s.

How did you feel as a student at Castlemont High School in Oakland?

I’m shy, a little lonely, and obsessed with books. I do have a few friends, but I’ve been silent. I am actively involved in my father’s church. I live a hidden life. I would leave school, go to church, and spend most of the week there. I had a great time. I love my high school years and I love Oakland. If you asked me at the time, writing a screenplay was the last thing I wanted to think about. I plan to go into international business or pre-med. Life is fun. I don’t know how I got here.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

I want people who come to watch my plays to interact freely and have a shared experience. Laugh and sing together as long as you can hear the voices of the actors, just a little louder – like a church service. Put your hair down and enjoy yourself. Lear It is a celebration of language and family. With this isolation created by the pandemic, I hope this show can be a part of bringing the community back together.

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