Paul’s Picks: Towering Shakespeare and thought-proving fringe

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Ron Pyle is King Lear and Gabby Prairie is Cordelia in BJU's Classic Players production, King Lear, 2018. (Hal Cook)

Paul’s Picks of the Week: The spotlight is on towering Shakespeare and thought-provoking fringe: “King Lear” at Bob Jones University and “World Builders” at Centre Stage.

Why you should see ‘King Lear’

Shakespeare occupies a special place at Bob Jones University. Generations of BJU’s Classic Players have been performing the Bard once or twice a year since the university was founded in 1927.

“We want to do the best,” said stage director David Schwingle, reflecting on the university’s longtime commitment to Shakespeare. “In some ways, we’ve been a resident Southern Shakespeare company for 90 years.”

Clarity and fluidity — sensitive attention to the text — are the hallmarks of these dynamic productions. The Classic Players’ “King Lear,” Nov. 15-17, features Ron Pyle (a memorable Richard III in 2014) in the title role of Lear, the aging English king who decides to divide his kingdom among his daughters, bringing tragic consequences for all. Lear is one of the most demanding roles in theater.

“This is the mountain a Shakespearean actor has to climb,” Schwingle said. “It’s a marathon, or actually more of a triathlon. There’s a swim, there’s a bike ride and a marathon at the end of it. That’s what playing Lear is like for an actor.”

Schwingle’s staging sets the tragedy at a time of tumultuous change, as the Victorian era gave way to the Edwardian period and World War I loomed. It was a time of uncertainty and leadership failure — two big themes in “Lear,” Schwingle said.

“The period is 1890 to 1914,” Schwingle said. “There’s a sense of the older generation giving way to the younger generation, and war approaching. There’s unease and anxiety. In ‘Lear,’ the change of leadership is definitely not handled well. Lear wants all the rights and power without any of the responsibilities of leadership.”

Those ideas are relevant today as well.

“Whatever side of the political divide you’re on, there’s a sense in which we’re in those tumultuous times again,” Schwingle said.

At the same time, “Lear” is also a domestic drama about a father and his three daughters. “He clearly loves one child more than the others and that ruins the relationships and drives all sides to be very cruel to each other,” Schwingle said.

This “Lear” features several theater faculty members who are veterans of the BJU stage. In addition to Pyle, the cast includes Lonnie Polson, a commanding “Othello” from 2012, playing Kent. Darren Lawson, another familiar leading actor and BJU faculty member, is Gloucester.

The full cast of more than two dozen features BJU faculty, staff and students.

“From the beginning, Bob Jones University wanted to have the performing arts to be a vibrant part of student life,” Schwingle said. “The founders didn’t want to just talk about the great works in the Western canon, they wanted to produce them on stage.”

The Classic Players last performed “King Lear” in 2005.

If you go

  • What: “King Lear,” produced by the Classic Players at Bob Jones University
  • When: 8 p.m. Nov. 15-17 (The production will be performed livestreamed online on Nov. 17.)
  • Where: Rodeheaver Auditorium at Bob Jones University
  • Tickets: $25-$45
  • Info: 864-770-1372 or bju.edu/lear
  • Why you should see ‘World Builders.’

Two performances remain for ‘World Builders’ 

Johnna Adams’ “World Builders,” which opened last week at Centre Stage, focuses on two young people who are undergoing a six-week drug trial to cure them of their schizophrenic dreams and make them functioning members of society.

As the two begin to shed their fantasy worlds, and romance develops, the play asks: What exactly is normal? And why do we force perfectly happy people to embrace what we consider normal?

“It’s a play that reminds us of the power of our imagination,” said director Aaron Brakefield. “As with all good theater, I think the audience can expect to think about things they may never have before.”

“World Builders” is part of Centre Stage’s superb Fringe Series that features intriguing plays with small casts and minimal sets at a very affordable price, $15.

Two performances remain: Tuesday and Wednesday.

As an added bonus, I’ll host “Pizza With Paul” following the Wednesday, Nov. 14 performance of “World Builders.” Join me for free pizza and a lively discussion with the actors and directors.

If you go

  • What: “World Builders” by Johnna Adams; part of Centre Stage’s Fringe Series
  • When: 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 14
  • Where: Centre Stage, 501 River St.
  • Tickets: $15
  • Info: 864-233-6733 or https://centrestage.org/
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