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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Princeton Rep’s `King Lear’
I love you majesty according to my bond, no more nor
less. — Cordelia to her father, King Lear.
Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been
wise. — The Fool to King Lear.
Alicia Goranson, familiar to television audiences as
Becky on the hit show "Roseanne," as well as her film roles
in "How to Make an American Quilt" and "Boys Don’t Cry,"
is expanding the boundaries in her professional life. Part of that
growth can be observed in the current Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival
production of "King Lear," Shakespeare’s tragi-fairy tale
of filial ingratitude and royal deception. Not only is Goranson playing
Cordelia, but the King’s Fool, as well.
"King Lear," which has the distinction of being the first
Shakespeare tragedy to be staged by the Princeton Rep Shakespeare
Festival, opens on Thursday, August 8, at the Amphitheater at Pettoranello
Gardens under the direction of artistic director Victoria Liberatori.
Richard Bourg, whose credits include Gremio in Princeton Rep’s production
of "Taming of the Shrew," plays the title role. Performances
are Thursday through Sunday at 7 p.m. through Sunday, September 1.
While the 28-year-old Goranson is well aware that "Lear" is
considered one of the greatest plays of all time and one of the most
demanding of its actors, she has bravely immersed herself in preparation
for her dual roles. The theme of old age and the distinct relationships
of each child of Lear in the main story line and subplots resonate
with a universal timelessness that has sent Goranson deep into exploration
of herself and the characters. She admits that, except for playing
the role of Puck in a college production of "A Midsummer Night’s
Dream," this is the first time she has had the opportunity to
play a major role in a Shakespeare play with a professional company.
The play’s story, which chronicles King Lear’s misapprehension of
his one daughter’s devotion causing him to divide his kingdom between
the remaining two daughters who have feigned their love, remains one
of the most emotional tragedies of all time. Things get a bit nasty
when the wicked daughters strip their father of all power and at the
same time involve and seduce Edmund. Edmund is the bastard son of
the Earl of Gloucester, who, like the daughters, deceives his father
by denouncing his brother Edgar as a traitor. The resulting web of
deception results in a downward spiral of devastating proportions.
It was at a conference for Gender Pac, an organization dedicated to
the support of gender and identity-based issues directed by Gina Reiss,
the twin sister of Princeton Rep’s executive producer Anne Reiss,
that Goranson suddenly found herself a candidate for the role. A word
from Reiss to Princeton Rep’s artistic director, Victoria Liberatori,
prompted Liberatori to suggest, "Let’s bring her on." Now
she is on for the production that begins Thursday, August 8.
While playing Cordelia and the Fool presents a challenge for any seasoned
actor, Goranson says she feels comfortable with the text she has to
work with. "I learn by doing," she says, and she refers to
her years at Vassar, where she earned her BA in 1995 as an English
major with a concentration in poetry. "I performed more than I
actually took theater classes at Vassar. But I grew up doing shows
and taking theater classes from the time I was a kid in my hometown."
That hometown was Evanston, Illinois.
Goranson was only 12 years old when she had to make some major, life-altering
decisions. Still in junior high school, she auditioned for and won
the coveted role of Becky, the oldest daughter of three children on
the ABC comedy series "Roseanne." Encouraged by her father,
Steve, a statistician for the Environmental Protection Agency, and
her mother, Linda, a high school English teacher and a recent recipient
of a doctorate in psychology, Goranson left for Los Angeles and a
life as an actor. The popular sit-com ran for years.
"At that point, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an actor for the
rest of my life," she says. She left "Roseanne" in 1992
to attend Vassar, where she also found time to play on the college
rugby team. After a two-year return stint on "Roseanne" beginning
in 1995, and with work as a YMCA camp counselor during the summers,
the petite 5-foot-5, blue-eyed blonde then headed for New York where
she encountered some more lucky breaks.
While landing roles in a number of well-reviewed plays including "Good
Thing," at the New York Group, "An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein"
at the Atlantic Theater Company, "Cat’s Paw" at Soho Rep,
"The Trestle At Pope Lick Creek" at New York Theater Workshop,
"Defying Gravity," at the American Place Theater, Goranson
was also politically active as a feminist advocate. She has worked
with organizations such as Gender Pac whose mission is to protect
and support people of all genders.
When I suggest that Cordelia is an important role, but the Fool is
considered by many scholars to have even more dramatic significance,
Goranson agrees. She adds an interesting note in support of her philosophy.
Like Cordelia, Goranson says she knows that there is a part of her
that won’t compromise, as she integrates into our phone conversation
more of her strong feelings about the importance of trying to make
life more meaningful and better for herself and for others who may
have an identity crisis. She is open about how her sessions with a
psychotherapist have helped her find her true identity.
Goranson who, like Cordelia, admirably lacks "that glib and oily
art to speak and purpose not," is courageously dedicated to filling
her life with purpose and self-expression, most importantly, through
writing poetry. "Poetry has always been important to me. I’m always
encouraging people to read poetry for healing," she says. As we
concur how the Fool, Lear’s "bitter, all-licensed" jester,
speaks some of the most glorious poetic allusions in all Shakespeare,
Goranson says that it is just that kind of poetry that makes her understand
the character. And curiously, just like the Fool who humanizes Lear
and is the only one besides Cordelia who is not afraid to speak what
he feels and knows, I get a sense that Goranson is, indeed, in tune
Given that the majestic sweep of the poetry is unsurpassed in all
of Shakespeare and that it demands of the actors the most artful and
brilliant exploration of the characters, I asked Goranson what kind
of exploration she did to prepare for these roles. Her answer: Reading
"Puer Aeturnus" by Marie Louise von Franz, a book about myth
and archetypes from a Jungian perspective. I’ll have to check out
To quote Lear: "When we are born, we cry that we are come to this
great stage of fools."
— Simon Saltzman
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Production Note">Production Note
There is a myth in circulation that the roles of Cordelia
and the Fool have traditionally been played by the same actor, a myth
based on the sense that the two roles share an underlying artistic
significance. More likely than not, in Shakespeare’s day they would
have been played by the same actor. And in a time when role doubling
was common, theater companies were small and comprised solely of men.
One might make something of the fact that Lear refers to Cordelia
as his "fool." The Fool is wise and Cordelia, whose heart
is wise, are bonded by their refusal to abandon him; they are the
only characters who remain true to him. Yet looking over prominent
professional cast lists during the past 50 years, the only time I
saw the doubling of the roles of Cordelia and the Fool was at the
New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in 1998 when Julyana Soelistyo played
at Pettoranello Garden, Community Park North, Route 206 and Mountain
Avenue, Princeton, 609-921-3682. Opening night for the production
that continues Thursday through Sunday, to September 1. www.princetonrep.org.
$10 donation requested. Thursday, August 8, 7 p.m.
Shuttles will run between designated drop-off locations and Pettoranello
Amphitheater prior to and following the performances. To obtain up
to four free general admission tickets, pick up your tickets at Thomas
Sweet, 29 Palmer Square, Princeton, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays
to Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays or pick up tickets
the evening of the performances starting at 6 p.m. Bard Card members
can obtain reservations on the night of their choice by phone or at
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