Bryan M. Booth, a graduate student at MTSU and director of Center Player’s production of King Lear, has discovered certain parallels in Mario Puzo’s award-winning look at the aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty who transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son and Shakespeare’s Lear, who decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, due to his age and need to find a successor. And, like Vito Corleone, Lear’s choice for a successor puts in motion a myriad of subplots, all of which end in tragedy.

Shakespeare’s King Lear, produced by The Center Players, will run Thursday, March 13, through Sunday, March 23. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door on the day of the performance, or reserved by calling the Center for the Arts, 110 W. College Street in Murfreesboro, at 615-904-2787.

“The tragedy grows from Lear’s inability to look past the world that he has constructed for himself,” Booth says. “He is so accustomed to control that he sabotages himself by trying to relinquish all he has.”

Nashville resident and theatre veteran Tony Wakefield, plays the aging and symbolically blind Lear, the patriarchal figure whose misjudgment of his daughters brings about his downfall; Murfreesboro resident Amy Bernstein plays the manipulative Goneril, while Nashville resident Lauren Atkins, plays the abominably cruel Regan; and Jillian Weller plays the sympathetic and banished daughter, Cordelia, who expresses her love honestly for her aging father.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this production is the reversal of many of the traditional gender roles in the show.

“I wanted to challenge the blatant misogyny that many people associate with King Lear,” Booth contends. “As such, we have bent or completely reversed the gender of several roles; there are women performing male roles and women playing female characters who dress in drag so that they may be more respected in the patriarchy in which they’re entangled.”

This has resulted in a unique set of challenges for several members of the cast. Kelly Hayes, who plays the role of the Duke of Cornwall, explains, “It really has made me focus on all those subtleties that culture and society layer in without even realizing it.”

Susan Higdon, who plays Kent – a woman who disguises herself as a man to garner the respect of other characters – agrees.

“There are so many little details that you don’t even think about; it’s very much the movement,” Higdon says. Hayes explains that this role has shown her “how much society’s expectations change perception.”

Another notable performance in this category comes from Sherry Sunday, who plays The Fool. Booth explains, “I knew that I wanted The Fool to be a woman, because the role is – as most of Shakespeare’s fools are – one of the most insightful and wise characters in the show. In this modern vision, she is the family consigliore, a respected and trusted adviser. It was very important to me to show women in powerful and substantive roles with this show and not relegate them to the status of fawning or manipulative princesses.”

Booth has set the play in urban America in the late 20th century and has drawn not only from popular film and television images of organized crime but also from sources as diverse as Catholic symbolism and color theory. Further, he promises a music score that will only exacerbate the dark symbolism and metaphors hidden with Shakespeare’s text.

“This is the first show I’ve directed where I can say there are no accidents,” Booth explained. “I’ve worked to construct a very unified production that draws the audience into itself in a very visceral way.”

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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