Belarus Free Theatre returns to Chicago with subversive “King Lear”

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unnamed (4)Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) welcomes Belarus Free Theatre for the third time as they return to Chicago for the American premiere of their internationally acclaimed production of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Hailed as “one of the most powerful underground companies on the planet” by The New York Times, Belarus Free Theatre is an outspoken critic of Belarus’ repressive regime, using its art to call attention to social justice and the violation of human rights across the globe. Directed by Co-Artistic Director Vladimir Shcherban and adapted by company Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director Nicolai Khalezin, this gripping examination of power draws on the company’s own first-hand experiences of tyranny and exile. Belarus Free Theatre’s King Lear is featured in the theater Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare for a limited engagement,February 5–14, 2016.

Belarus Free Theatre was formed in 2005 by Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin under Europe’s last surviving dictatorship to provide an opportunity for commentary on conditions in their country. It has flourished both in exile and underground in Belarus—making it the first refugee-led theatre company in the UK, and the only theatre in Europe banned by its government on political grounds. Many company members have served time in prison, lost their jobs, gone into hiding or been exiled. Despite this, the company continues to create award-winning work with the support of artists around the world. The company’s resistance movement was chronicled in the HBO documentary Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus (2014) comprised of smuggled footage and uncensored interviews. The film went on to garner an Emmy Award for Outstanding Arts and Cultural Programming in 2015.

King Lear is presented as a part of Shakespeare 400 Chicago, the yearlong celebration commemorating the playwright’s 400-year legacy since his death in 1616. Originally commissioned for Shakespeare’s Globe during London’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad around the Olympic Games, this production was also featured as part of Belarus Free Theatre’s underground Staging a Revolution festival in 2015 which was live-streamed around the world. The revolutionary company returns to Chicago Shakespeare following widely acclaimed productions here of Being Harold Pinter (2011) and Minsk 2011, A Reply to Kathy Acker (2013).

Of the company’s strong partnership with Chicago Shakespeare, founding Co-Artistic Director Natalia Kaliada said, “It was 2011 when we were smuggled out of our homeland following a bloody crackdown in Belarus as a result of the rigged elections. We knew we couldn’t go back anymore…What then happened was unprecedented. Chicago gave us what we urgently needed: a month of performances. It was like a gulp of a fresh air. Just over four years ago, Chicago gave us a shelter from a real-life storm, and we are thrilled to come back with a ‘storm’ of love and appreciation inspired by Shakespeare.”

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, a monarch obscured by the shadows of dementia resolves to retire, and divides his kingdom among his three daughters. The unexpected consequence of losing everything that defines him is a sobering reminder that even the most powerful can be undone. Featuring tempestuous poetic language and shot through with touches of humor and moments of heartrending simplicity, this play is one of the most striking and relevant artistic explorations of the human condition.

The Guardian gives King Lear four stars—calling it, “Beautifully staged. The production gives us a glimpse of what it must be like to live under a whimsically irrational dictatorship.”Exuent Magazine raves, “The company brings an energy and passion to their performances that transcends speech. Their Lear is a complex, visceral piece of theatre, a skewed looking glass journey told by a company for whom voice and visibility, the ability to be seen and heard, remains all important.” The Financial Times said, “simple staging and strong performances made for a thrilling couple of hours.”

Director Vladimir Shcherban also designs this production of King Lear,  with costume design also contributed by Alex Shyrnevich and Natalia Kaliada. The original musical reprise is composed by Pavel Arakelian.The company includes Aleh Sidorchyk (King Lear), Andrei Urazau (Duke of Cornwall), Elias Faingersh (Fool), Dzianis Tarasenka (Earl of Kent), Kiryl Kanstantsinau (Edmund), Maryna Yurevich (Regan), Maryia Sazonava (King of France/Announcer), Pavel Radak-Haradnitski (Earl of Gloucester), Siarhei Kvachonak (Edgar/Poor Tom/Duke of Burgundy), Victoria Biran (Cordelia), Yana Rusakevich (Goneril), Yuliya Shauchuk (Oswald) and Yuriy Dalivelya (Duke of Albany).

PERFORMANCE LISTING
Friday, February 5, 20167:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 6, 20168:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 7, 20162:00 p.m.
Tuesday, February 9, 20167:30 p.m.
Wednesday, February 10, 20167:30 p.m.
Thursday, February 11, 20167:30 p.m.
Friday, February 12, 20167:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 13, 20163:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 14, 20162:00 p.m.

Tickets: $48–$58

For more information, visit www.chicagoshakes.com/lear.

Shakespeare 400 Chicago explores Shakespeare’s enduring legacy across languages and disciplines including theater, dance, literature, music, cuisine and spectacle. The yearlong international arts festival brings together the city’s resident world-class institutions across disciplines, and welcomes leading artists from around the globe to celebrate, interpret and reimagine Shakespeare’s work. Upcoming highlights include: Chicago Shakespeare’sOthello directed by Jonathan Munby (February 18–April 10); Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet at Lyric Opera of Chicago (February 22–March 19); Oxford Playhouse’s Sancho: An Act of Remembrance, written by and starring Paterson Joseph at Chicago Shakespeare (February 17–21); the Hamburg Ballet’s Othello at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (February 23–24); and (In) Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare from Forced Entertainment at the Museum of Contemporary Art (February 25–27).

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