shotgun players

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for all Events, May 15, 2006


“How sharper than a serpent’s tongue it is to have a thankless child”

-- By Charles Jarrett

The Berkeley based Shotgun Players is one of those “Little Theaters Who Could - - and Did”. What’s more, they are continuing to do “what they did” even better, growing from a dream in a basement under La Valle’s Pizza Parlor to a full fledged professional theatre that draws rave reviews from a broad-based theatre community. Their current production of “King Lear” is a brilliant piece of direction and casting and staging, from a fearless–shoot–from-the-hip gutsy alternative theatrical company. Described by some as the “Little Giant Killers of Berkeley”, Shot Gun Players under the artistic direction of Patrick Dooley have put out a Shakespearean experience to rival anything you have seen in the Bay Area, especially for a theatrical company that continuously works miracles for peanuts.

"King Lear" has long been one of Shakespeare’s most talked about tragedies, even described by Charles Lamb as so epical, to intensive and extensive that “the play is impossible of representation on the stage”. This description is extreme and ridiculous as it was written by one of the most experienced playwrights, certainly of that age. The play is not done as often as it should be, because it takes great talent to carry off the extremely diverse inner plots and its shear scale. The elements themselves, storm and rain, heath and hovel, clash of steel and cries of anguish, majestic court to the high cliffs of Dover, men gone mad and men pretending to be mad, mingle together in a cacophonic symphony of movement, emotion and sound!

Dooley has done an excellent job of casting and while there is some unevenness in the portrayal of various characters and delivery of dialect, the principal parts are very well chosen.

King Lear is played by Richard Louis James, who should be very familiar to East Contra Costa audiences for his many portrayals of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek over the years. Richard has dug down deep into the complex nature of Lear and come up with pure gold; from the tyrannical, self-centered, self-assured extrovert leader of a great nation, to the whimpering, confused, vainglorious and impassioned father disdained and destroyed by his own family. Richard James has always displayed great range of talent and he delivers a very different Lear, here!

The three daughters who ply with dishonesty, deceit, love and compassion, are very good as well. The oldest daughter, Goneril (Trish Mullholland), and his middle daughter, Regan (Fontana Butterfield) are the pinnacle of evil personified, as daughters who are willing to do anything, say anything, pretend anything to wrest the reins of control from their father , King Lear. While each daughter is different, they are essentially united in deception and intent. The youngest daughter, Cordelia (Zehra Berkman), whom Lear professes to love and cherish most, has the least to say in praise of her father. She loves him dutifully and loyally, but will not falsely praise him to garner his humor and appreciation. Consequently she is outcast from his court. Lear had intended to divide his country up into three governing divisions with each daughter as that division’s head of state, allowing him to retire from the frustrations and pressures of governing state. Little does he suspect that two of his progeny bear a serpent’s bite.

Within the play’s inner plots we find another tale in which a bastard brother, Edmond (Benjamin Privitt), has designs upon usurping his legitimate brother’s position in the family hierarchy by claiming to this father, the Earl of Gloucester (John Mercer), that Edgar (Dave Maier) is planning to kill his father. All three deliver excellent portrayals, keeping their characters honest and meaningful. There are many more actors who contribute much to this production, more than I have space to include. There are some actors who try very hard but just don’t quite deliver the perfection they seek.

Over all "King Lear" is a very well produced and directed production that will, I’m sure, be remembered for a long time. I highly recommend this production. The theater is easily accessed at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, across the street from the Ashby BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Station. From Lafayette you take the BART Daly City train towards Oakland, disembark at the MacArthur Station, re-board the Richmond Train towards Berkeley and get off at the Ashby station and walk approximately one block to the Shotgun Players theater at 1901 Ashby Avenue in Berkeley. There is street parking available in the area but there may a bit of a walk. We arrived about 20 minutes before the production began and found parking within on block of the theater, right on Ashby. The seating is rather unique, a combination of church benches and comfortable folding chairs. The area feels safe to walk in. Call (510) 841-6500 for additional information and reservations or visit their website at This production plays Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., now through June 18th. Tickets range in cost between $15 and $30 each.

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