Glebe actors triumph in King Lear

By Eleanor Crowder

Bear & Co is well known to Glebe residents. Now domiciled on Monk Street, the company plays outdoor Shakespeare across the city every summer. Passers by enjoy rehearsals at Fireman’s Park and flock to July shows in Central Park.

This spring Bear & Co. embarks on its most ambitious show to date, King Lear at The Gladstone, March 20 to 30. Fully a quarter of the team have Glebe roots. The cast of 15 is a rare event for an indie company. This show takes place with generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Community Foundation of Ottawa and from individual donors. (Visit our webpage to make a contribution!) The rarity and wonder of this funding allows a professional company to mount a show with a cast as large as Shakespeare originally intended.

Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG) Theatre is home base for a third of the team! A well-loved community project conceived by Mary Tsai, GNAG Theatre has now run 20 seasons of large productions in Scotton Hall at the community centre. Gabriel Schultz, who plays the villain Edmund, began his acting career at Glebe Collegiate and with GNAG. You may remember him as a heartbroken Rolf, torn between loyalty to his army unit and his love for the daughter of an Austrian nationalist (he lets Liesl and her family escape in The Sound of Music) or as a very charming nephew telling us the story in A Christmas Carol. Gabriel went on to a degree at Concordia University in Montreal. Gabriel’s one-man show Invasive Species has won multiple awards in various festivals in Montreal, and he has been a frequent face in the Montreal theatre community, as well as regularly working in film and television. Gabriel is excited to be home for a role!

Jennifer Hurd sang as a nun in that same Sound of Music. She played a memorable Cordelia in GNAG’s Lear, the only other large-cast production this city has seen in the past 40 years. In this production, she is the stellar stage manager, adding extensive fight training to the skills gained in her past four years at Oxford. She has managed pyrotechnics and lighting for the Oxford Playhouse as well as stage managing Singing in the Rain with real rain! The Bear team relies on her steady hand to steer this show.

I directed both Jennifer and Gabe in those GNAG productions. A founding artist with Bear & Co, this time out I play Gloucester. The role parallels the fall of Lear. Director Peter Haworth has made Gloucester a woman, adding a 21st century lens to the play’s examination of aging and power. Peter himself plays Lear, as the company explores the dynamic usual in Shakespeare’s time. Here are two of Ottawa’s senior actors at the height of their power.

Chris Ralph of The Acting Company on Bank Street plays Albany, one of the true hearts of the piece. His students were delighted by his performance in the annual Radio Show before Christmas. Here he appears in a very different role, offering another treat for Glebe theatre aficionados.

Retired freelance writer Neil Kelly, the eldest member of the cast, has been delighting the green room with tales of his days at the National Arts Centre in its very first seasons. When hired from U Ottawa as a student spear-chucker, he encountered world-class stars (Vincent Price! Ginger Rogers!) in the hallways. His career has taken him full circle to play The Gentleman in this production.

And the director of the production’s incidental music, Rachel Eugster, is also well known to Glebe audiences from her work as the music director in eight GNAG productions, including those in which Gabriel and Jennifer appeared. A core artist of Bear, Rachel works frequently at the Gladstone, where she performed most recently in Bear’s This Flight Tonight: Songs of Joni Mitchell.

Ottawa audiences are in for a treat with this production. And Glebe residents have the particular thrill of watching their own actors enjoy a peak experience.

Tickets are available at Join Bear & Co. in celebrating at the opening night reception sponsored by PAL, the performing arts lodge. Lear’s themes of homelessness and poverty vs unbridled power, and youth vs age resonate today as fully as they ever have.

Eleanor Crowder has been making theatre in the Glebe since 1977. She works with GNAG Theatre, Bear & Co. and is Artist in Residence this year for Arts Network Ottawa. She will temper life as Gloucester with playing Titania in this summer’s parks show.

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