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Purdue University Theatre Division
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King Lear at Ground Zero
A scenographic exploration for the OISTAT exhibition, "A Lear for ‘Our Times'"

Just as the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and Vietnam have shaped our nation, the events of September 11, 2001 define an era. With just over a year gone by it is still very difficult to get past the horror, past the hurt, past the need for revenge, past the uncontrolled patriotism and the undeniable need to stand up for our country in the time of crisis. The events of September 11th have triggered a dormant need within us to re-examine the American Dream at the dawn of the twenty-first century. For many of us, there can only be one "our times," the times after September 11, 2001.

The story of King Lear dramatically parallels the events of September 11th. Unchecked power leads to Lear's (America's?) inability to see his world crumbling around him, and a belief that he is in total control. Gloucester must be physically blinded before he is able to see his faults, and Edgar must be stripped of his possessions before he can see his true purpose. Only Edmund, whose goddess is "nature," sees the world as it truly exists, but uses his clarity of vision to pursue selfish interests, rather than selfless service of his country.

Staging the play at the World Trade Center site reveals a frightening and disturbing resonance to the actions, emotions, and thoughts of the characters. The setting reveals in the play, and the play reveals in the setting a world of absolute and unchecked power, where isolated individuals pursue selfish objectives in stark contrast to citizens who selflessly serve their country; where materialism contrasts with poverty, vision with blindness, extravagance with desolation, light with darkness, and physicality with spirituality. It is a world that explores the relationship between man and a higher power (be it nature, the gods, or fate), and individual journeys result in spiritual rebirth. Permeating the play is an exploration of the resonances underlying Cordelia's inciting line, "nothing." This "nothing" characterizes our setting at Ground Zero: the desolation and destruction of the collapse; a nothing starkly contrasted by the Time Square facades that surround our set, and the very real world of the New York City skyline that frames our outdoor theatre.

The corner stone of our production is the characterization of the play's namesake, King Lear. We present Uncle Sam in the role of King Lear, a vivid metaphor in and of itself. Uncle Sam as King Lear personifies the American spirit, past and present: a once great and powerful leader consumed by power, left a homeless bum by the very politicians that pledged to protect him; driven in his journey to confront the people who are the backbone of this country.

Uncle Sam as King Lear...Ground Zero as Albion... Limousines as horses...Servants as "uppity slaves"... Lear's Fool as a virtual mass-media entertainer... A blown-out diner as the hovel...A burned out fire-truck ladder as the road to Dover...Afghanistan as Dover... The American Flag as a symbol of power and a weapon of destruction. Allegory, fantasy, or surrealistic history lesson, King Lear at Ground Zero is most of all an opportunity to explores the why behind September 11, and without mercy, examines who we are, where we have been, what we have become, and what we might still possibly be.


Individual Concept Statements

Jesse Dreikosen

Matthew Gowen

Timothy J. Rogers

Justin Seward

David Swenson




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