We didn’t really need Freud to teach us that the father/daughter relationship was a complex one, nor Jung to point out the archetypes around which we build our identities. The Greeks knew it; the apostles knew it; and William Shakespeare had a handle on it, too.
So it was that when dance artist Maria Rendina Frantz saw a PBS broadcast of King Lear in the mid-‘80s, shortly after her own father’s death, something resonated. In 1987, she premiered King Lear/Vision and Divisions, a work of dance theater that fused Shakespeare’s tale with her autobiography.
Last weekend, Rendina Frantz restaged the work for Santa Barbara audiences. With a cast of four actors and three dancers, King Lear alternates between dance and dialogue. As the narrator and the fool, Maia Mook delivers the modern story of a young woman whose father is diagnosed with lung cancer; the Shakespearean scenes were delivered primarily through movement. Though there are various parallels — the narrator likens Regan and Goneril’s struggle to win their father’s affection and his kingdom to her brothers’ scuffle over the family business — the main theme here is a daughter’s bitter pain at the loss of her father, a loss that’s first figurative, then literal.
“That’s my dad, and I’m Cordelia,” the narrator claims, then corrects herself: “No, I’m not. Lear loved Cordelia.” Stuart Ornstein plays a doddering, inconsistent Lear to Jenelle Rodriguez’s sweetly naïve Cordelia; her dancing is heartbreakingly innocent. Mook keeps one foot in each world: knee-high boots and a raincoat suggest she’s the ambitious young dancer launching her career in New York; a jester’s cap places her in Lear’s court, where instead of the loyal daughter she’s the wise fool, destined to see the truth of the matter, but have her voice discounted in turn.
Since the messages of Shakespeare’s tale easily transcend four centuries, Rendina Frantz figured she could go even farther back in time and still find modern relevance. Ever in search of a good love story, she found what she was looking for in the New Testament. Mysteries of Light is her retelling of the life of Jesus, a tale she presents in two acts, from Christ’s baptism by John to his resurrection and ascension. As in King Lear, the work alternates between sections of dialogue and those of pure movement. As Jesus, Matt Tavianini has true gravitas, and when the disciples gesture to the audience as evidence that there aren’t enough loaves and fishes to feed the masses, his ensuing miracle seems to encompass everyone in the house.