“The weight of this sad time we must obey/Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” That’s a well-known quote from the Shakespeare classic King Lear, and fortunately, a character named Edgar delivers it and not the play’s eponymous monarch, or else you might not hear it in a new production at the Bootleg Theater. That’s because in Source Material’s disruptive new adaptation of the play, King Lear himself never actually appears.
As crazy as that sounds, when the goal is to smash the patriarchy and question authority in both the classical canon and society generally, taking the king out of the equation shifts the focus of the narrative to the supporting and incidental characters, who achieve something like the agency denied to them in the shadow of their ruler. The oneiric surreality of the physical production augments and amplifies this transgression.
The decision to excise the protagonist from the history portrayed in the work tracks with the post-structuralist paradigm shifting Source Material practices with gusto. From the collective’s musical compositions and vocal performances, casting decisions, site-specificity and other aesthetic script-flipping, they’ve captured the imaginations of fans of indie and so-called experimental theater across Europe. Their King Lear, running April 11-13, will be the first time founder Samantha Shay has been on an L.A. stage in five years.
Source Material, the company Shay founded in Iceland and New York after attending CalArts in Los Angeles, is a revolving extended family of interdisciplinary music, visual and theater artists. Shay’s desire to take aim at the king, so to speak, came from the impulse to re-examine the classics through modern filters, not only to topple the past but to engage the future.
"I realized I started to miss my roots in theater,” Shay writes, “but also [realized] that I was identifying myself almost outside of it. By doing that, I was making an assumption that I didn't belong. … Every revered artist, like Shakespeare, was traversing an unprecedented territory, and as a director, I want to challenge assumptions.”
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Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Koreatown; Thu.-Sat., April 11-13, 7 p.m.; $25. sourcematerialcollective.com.