If you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s great tragedy King Lear—betrayal and heartbreak within family, betrayal and rebellion without—then you might recall the role of his jester, his Fool, his confidante, his source of wisdom to ignore.
Still nameless, the fool is now unemployed, and applying for work in his trade. This small conceit allows for an ever-blooming expansion of his place in Lear’s life. From that particular intimacy springs the fool’s taking on the roles, one by one, of the principals of Shakespeare’s original play: the daughters Goneril, Reagan, and Cordelia, and most powerfully that of the old king himself.
In a stunning solo performance Geoff Hoyle slips effortlessly from one to the other, veering away into powerful tangents of his and David Ford’s own making, keeping to one rule: “when Lear speaks, his lines are from Shakespeare’s play.” Stepping back, Hoyle becomes the Fool again, commenting on what he’s seen in his forty-seven years of service with the old king, reaching back to his connections with the girls as a stand-in stepmom taking them as children to the beach.
The Fool has his own connections, his own love, his own trust about to be broken, with all of these characters. He is both inside the story, and outside it, a witness, a commentator with no real force but that of observation that only he—and, lucky us, the audience—can see.
Likewise Hoyle is both inside and outside the Fool, feeling his own sense of loss and betrayal—”What about me?”—when the power shifts, and for all his shared history with that dysfunctional family, he’s about to be left behind. There are storms marauding this tortured kingdom, blows against the empire that his strives manfully to close the door against, with only small success.
The play builds slowly from a trivial-seeming introduction, but steadily gains power with each successive scene, relieved by the Fool’s comic appearance to comment and cajole the audience. In one particularly moving scene, Hoyle as the doddering, confused Lear reaches out to one of the audience, takes his hand and spreads it against its own, comparing the fingers and the miracle of humanity. In another, the Fool strikes back literally at the king, and in an intricate bit of staging delivers and receives the blow. It is not just a physical blow. Others lie in wait, tragic in the most moving sense of the word.
Well, you’re just going to have to see it for yourself. The magic of black-box in the hands of a master of the art. It helps to be familiar with the original King Lear, but even those who are not cannot fail to be moved to this Lear’s farewell to Cordelia, the most pure and precious of his daughters.
Written and performed by Geoff Hoyle, in collaboration with David Ford.
NOW EXTENDED! June 4-27, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 8pm | Saturdays at 5pm
Extended dates run Thursdays at 8pm & Saturdays at 5pm only (no Wednesdays)
80 minutes | No Intermission | 12 and up
Box Office: The Marsh
Theater: The Marsh San Francisco. 1062 Valencia St. SF 94110 415.282.3055
Review by David Hirzel