King Lear - program



(See head shots and bios.)
  • King Lear  -  Jessica Powell*
  • Earl of Gloucester  -  Phil Lowery*+
  • Goneril  -   Leontyne Mbele-Mbong*
  • Regan  -  Melissa Ortiz*
  • Cordelia/The Fool  -  Diana Lauren Jones
  • Earl of Kent  -  Cassidy Brown*
  • Edmund/Duke of Burgundy  -  Ron Chapman
  • Edgar/King of France  -  Yohana Ansari-Thomas
  • Duke of Albany/Oswald  -  David Everett Moore*+
  • Duke of Cornwall/Lear’s Attendant -  Sharon Huff
  • Curan/Performance Intern  -  Suhail Kumar
  • Attendant 1/Servant 2/French Soldier/Herald/Performance Intern  -  Viv Helvajian
  • Attendant 2/Servant 1/French Soldier/Captain/Performance Intern  -  Tessa Nesbet
(* member of Actors' Equity Association) (+ SF Shakes Resident Artist)


A Kingdom Divided
Upon her retirement, King Lear decides to divide the kingdom among her daughters so that she might “unburdened crawl towards death.” Lear makes her daughters earn their inheritance by performing declarations of flattery. Cunning Goneril and Regan play along, win their portions, and are married off to the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall respectively. However, Cordelia, the youngest and most beloved daughter, refuses to speak such false flattery. This enrages Lear resulting in Cordelia’s marriage to the King of France, disinherited and banished from the country. In a moment of bravery, the Earl of Kent, Lear’s trusted and faithful advisor, condemns Lear’s rash decisions and is exiled for his trouble, but returns to court disguised as Caius, a servant loyal to Lear.

"Sharper than a serpent's tooth" 
In a closely related subplot, more conflict arises from the question of inheritance. The Earl of Gloucester’s bastard son Edmund resents his illegitimate status and plots to gain his father’s fortune by framing his virtuous older brother Edgar. Edmund falsifies a letter from his brother, detailing Edgar’s wishes to usurp their father. Faking an attack from Edgar, Edmund forces his older brother into hiding. Gloucester falls for the ploy and proclaims his legitimate son an outlaw and grants his inheritance to cunning Edmund. At Gloucester’s home, Kent disguised as Caius is placed in the stocks by Regan and Cornwall for a quarrel with Goneril’s servant, Oswald. Upon her arrival at the estate, Lear flies into a rage at this appalling treatment of her servant. Lear expects Regan to side with her against Goneril, but Regan is just as disdainful of her mother’s behavior. Both daughters declare they will not allow Lear to retain more than twenty-five men. Cursing her daughters, Lear rushes out into the storm accompanied by faithful Kent and her wise but mocking Fool. Gloucester denounces the treatment of the King by Goneril and Regan and goes out in search of her to inform her of Cordelia’s imminent arrival with an invading army from France intended to restore Lear’s position. The play reaches its highpoint in the midst of the storm as Lear suffers a complete breakdown. Having lost all her power and familial relationships, she begins to comprehend her own failures and experience some of her first moments of empathy.

Familial Dysfunction
Edmund betrays his father, revealing Gloucester’s knowledge of an impending invasion to reinstate Lear. Gloucester is declared a traitor and has his eyes gouged out. A servant reacts to such gruesome torture and attacks Cornwall, giving her a mortal wound. Regan informs Gloucester that he trusted in the wrong son and was betrayed by Edmund. Edgar, who in exile has donned the disguise of Tom o’ Bedlam, eventually finds his blinded father wandering outside. Gloucester begs Tom to lead him to a nearby cliff so he can end his life. Tom simulates leading his father to the cliff, and then, pretending to be someone new, swears his father has miraculously survived the fall.

Albany becomes aware of the family’s ever-increasing corruption and he and Goneril fight. Regan, newly widowed, and Goneril, finding her husband cowardly, both set their lustful sights on the bastard Edmund. Still recovering from her emotional breakdown in the storm, Lear finds herself in the care of Cordelia, newly arrived from France. Lear begins to regain her senses and begs for forgiveness. The reunion is short-lived as Cordelia and Lear are quickly taken prisoner by the sisters’ armies. Edmund orders the King and Cordelia killed.

Goneril’s pursuit of Edmund is divulged and Albany charges them both with treason. Regan, who has also declared her intent to marry Edmund, falls ill and is escorted off stage. Edmund demands a trial by combat and fights a disguised Edgar. Edgar deals Edmund a fatal wound before removing his disguise. He reveals the fate of their father who died from joy and grief upon learning of Edgar’s true identity. Regan’s illness and subsequent death is reported to be the result of her sister poisoning her, and Goneril commits suicide. Just before death, Edmund reveals his execution orders for Cordelia and Lear. His warning comes too late, and Lear stumbles on stage carrying the corpse of Cordelia. Lear, overwhelmed by all that has happened and filled with grief, dies. Kent, determined to follow Lear even to the grave, declines the request to lead the country, leaving Edgar alone to offer hope.

Production Staff

Elizabeth Carter (Director) is thrilled to delve into King Lear with SF Shakes. She has had the pleasure of directing Bondage for Alter Theatre. She has directed for the California Shakespeare Theater Conservatory for nearly 20 years. Directorial credits include Richard III, The Winter’s Tale, As you Like It, The Tempest, Macbeth, and Much Ado about Nothing. Currently she is the Shakespeare and Voice Artist in Residence for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA) Theater Department. While Managing Director of Oakland Public Theater she also directed Motherlove by August Strindberg. As an actor Elizabeth has appeared in numerous Bay Area theaters including California Shakespeare Theater, Marin Theatre Co., Aurora Theatre Co., SF Shakes, The Magic Theatre, San Jose Stage, and TheatreWorks. She is a SFBATCCO award recipient for Trouble in Mind at the Aurora Theatre Co.

Rebecca J Ennals (Artistic Director)
has been on the staff of SF Shakes since 2002 and Artistic Director since 2012. She has taught and written curriculum at the elementary through college levels, and directed locally at PlayGround, Napa Valley Shakespeare Festival, Pear Theatre, Napa Valley Repertory Theatre, Peninsula Youth Theatre, Los Altos Youth Theatre, and Shakespeare at Stinson. For SF Shakes, Rebecca has directed 8 productions for Shakespeare On Tour, 6 productions for Civic Arts Stage Company, and numerous Green Shows, pop-up performances, and staged readings. Her past Free Shakespeare in the Park productions include The Taming of the Shrew (’14), Romeo and Juliet (’15), The Winter’s Tale (’16), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (’18), and As You Like It (‘19). New musicals she has developed include Malvolio’s Revenge (a commission from New York Classical Theatre, with Chris Houston) and Puss in Boots (with Chris Houston and Kate Hawley). Rebecca holds a BA from Scripps College and an MFA from UC Davis. Love and thanks to Ryan, Henry, and Edward – you’re everything.

Karen Schleifer* (Stage Manager)
is thrilled to be working with San Francisco Shakespeare Festival again! Favorite credits include: PSM: Life Could Be A Dream (International City Theatre) Driving Miss Daisy (The Laguna Playhouse), Fool for Love (The Lounge Theatre & Theatre for the New City), Jews, Christians & Screwing Stalin* (The Matrix Theatre), The Death & Life of Mary Jo Kopechne*, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally & Farragut North (Theatre Planners @ The Odyssey) (*world premiere). Fun fact: Karen was “Kate” in the original production of Annie on Broadway for 2 years! Graduate of SUNY Purchase with a BA in Production & Directing, she is also a working musician & recording artist. She is also supremely excited to have recently relocated to the Bay Area with her hubby Pete & their fur-babies - Benny & The Jets! AEA/SAG-AFTRA/SMA - for more info -

Sydney Schwindt+ (Fight Director)
is an actor, fight director, and teaching artist in the Bay Area and a Resident Artist with SF Shakes. Fight directing credits include American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Livermore Shakespeare Festival, The B Street Theatre, and others. Favorite acting credits include Sydney (Jess) in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] with Livermore Shakespeare Festival, Rosalind in As You Like It with San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare On Tour, and Elvira in Blithe Spirit with Lucky Penny Productions. She currently serves as the stage combat instructor for the MFA students at A.C.T.’s Conservatory program. She earned her BFA in Acting from The Hartt School and has trained with the San Francisco Clown Conservatory, Academia dell’Arte (Arezzo, Italy), British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat, Stage Combat Deutschland, and is an Advanced Actor Combatant with The Society of American Fight Directors.

Lana Palmer (Sound Designer)
is a Canadian-born, San Francisco-based sound designer and composer. Her recent credits include The Humans (San Jose Stage), The Daughters (SF Playhouse/World Premiere), Bull in a China Shop (Aurora Theatre), School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play (Kansas City Rep/Regional Premiere). As a composer, her music is heard on over 100 shows airing worldwide. She is excited to make her San Francisco Shakespeare Festival debut with King Lear.

Hyun Sook Kim (Costume Designer)
is a long experienced professional costume-designer and college professor at California State University, Fullerton. Kim is internationally recognized for her outstanding costume designs in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing and Seoul. She has designed costumes in various genres and styles and in large scale at big venues. Specifically, her design for the mega-scale musical The Last Empress has been presented at NYC Lincoln Center, at LA Kodak Theatre and Schubert Theatre, and at Toronto Hummingbird Center, as well as in London’s West End. This award-winning costume design will celebrate its 25th-year anniversary of long-run performances in Jan. 2021. Across the nation, she has designed for the New York LORT, Capital Repertory Theatre and the AEA theatre company NYC Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, and the Human Race Theatre Company among others. Kim’s designs have received laudatory reviews in The New York Times and from many NYC theatre critics. Recently her designs have been selected and exhibited at the Prague Quadrennial (PQ) 2019 as a part of USA National Theatre Designs, and also at World Stage Design (WSD) 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan.

Neal Ormond (Scenic Designer, Technical Director, Master Carpenter, Graphic Designer)
joined SF Shakes in 2017 as our first full-time technical director and manages all things tech, including set design, graphic design, fabrication, paint, transportation, and installation for SF Shakes and several of our partner organizations. He also dabbles in lighting and sound and coordinates the infrastructure of our outdoor shows. Prior to this he spent 4 years in the advertising world as Manager of Art & Technology at Publicis, though the majority of his career has been spent as an independent designer/builder, recklessly pursuing and combining the realms of mobile architecture, pyrotechnics, electric vehicles, lighting and sound design, robotics, and graphic and web design. He holds a BA in Design from Stanford University. Recent intelligence suggests that he may currently be developing an autonomous, 50-foot-tall, fire-breathing, disco-dancing likeness of William Shakespeare . . .

John Bernard (Lighting Designer)
is thrilled to be returning to SF Shakes this season. He previously lit As You Like It (2019) and A Midsummer Nights Dream (2018). John earned his master’s degree from the University of Washington in 2015. In the area, he has designed for CMTSJ, San Jose Dance Co., City Light Theater Company, Stanford Repertory Theater, San Jose State University, Silicon Valley Shakespeare, The Dragon Theater, The Pear Avenue Theater, and Hillbarn.

Pratiksha Shah (Production Manager)
fell in love with San Francisco Shakespeare Festival while working on a joint production of the Ramayana. She has since joined the company as production manager. She holds a Bachelors in Electronics Engineering, but her true calling has always been theater; so, she did an intense two-year theater program at Foothill Theater Conservatory. Pratiksha is a production manager, director, actor, light designer and theater teacher. She has worked with San Jose Rep, City lights, NDNU,EnActe Arts, Rungmunch and many other local theater companies. She is excited for her first Free Shakespeare in the Park season and is thrilled to be part of the team.