All the king’s men: Local actors share stage with ‘King Lear’ legend • Brooklyn Paper

All the king’s men: Local actors share stage with ‘King Lear’ legend

A look behind the curtain: A dozen local, amateur actors portray the king’s retinue in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “King Lear.”
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

The king here does keep a hundred knights and squires!

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “King Lear,” now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, does not feature a full 100 cavaliers, but it has recruited 20 amateur actors from Kings County and nearby boroughs to look the part. A dozen members of the “community chorus” portray knights, vagrants, hunters, and other minor parts each night, joining the celebrated actors from across the pond on the ornate stage of the Harvey Theater. One chorus member said that joining the London production is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I don’t have any acting experience, but I am a musician, so I’m not nervous to be in front of a crowd or anything like that,” said Seon Gomez, who lives in Prospect Heights and plays a knight. “But it wasn’t until I got into the space that I really understood the gravity of a production like this and how incredible it is to be a part of it.”

The chorus acts alongside company legends, including Sir Antony Sher, who plays the show’s namesake ruler, whose pride ultimately drives both his kingdom and his family to destruction. Gomez said that sharing scenes with the star — including an initial hunting scene, when the knights are on stage with Sher for about 20 minutes — never gets old.

“It’s surreal for sure — thrilling, absolutely,” he said. “Even without an audience, it’s amazing to be on stage with him. He’s huge, so I’m really excited.”

The chorus members do not have speaking roles, but their reactions lend weight to the actions of the main characters, said Gomez. And their realistic costumes help to ground the production, with the knights outfitted in chest plates and leather boots, and the vagrants covered in real dirt and burlap fabrics.

Night moves: Community chorus member Amy Lopatin carries a prop moon on stage early in the production, and plays a vagrant in a later scene.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

One of those minor actors, who plays an attendant, said that the show has inspired her to move from on-screen work back to the stage.

“I haven’t done theater in a couple years, it’s been a lot of commercial stuff, so being back within a theater makes me think, ‘Now I want to do this again, and I want to do it often,’ ” said Amy Lopatin, who lives in the distant borough of Queens.

Lopatin and Gomez, who hold day-jobs at the Museum of Natural History and at a non-profit, respectively, were among several hundred locals who responded to the casting call, and they joined the cast for a week of rehearsals before the start of the show’s three-week run. The cast was instantly receptive to the chorus, despite the short rehearsal period, and the part has inspired Gomez to consider additional acting training.

“They’re the friendliest group of people — Byron [Mondahl], who plays Oswald, made it his mission to learn all of our names,” he said. “I might be tempted to do an improv class now.”

King Lear at BAM’s Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, www.bam.org). Playing through April 29. Wed–Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 3 pm. $35–$125.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
The king’s table: Acting in “King Lear” alongside Sir Antony Sher, right, is a landmark opportunity, said Prospect Heights actor and musician Seon Gomez, seated fourth from the king.
Richard Termine

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