George Filieau has taken on some pretty weighty roles since he immersed himself in the theater world nearly a decade ago, but this week in the Confetti Stage production of Shakespeare's "King Lear," he's in for some real heavy lifting.
"If you're an actor, then this role is on your bucket list, but you have to be willing to bite off a lot," said Filieau, who plays the title character in the Linda D. Shirey-directed classic opening Friday at the Albany Masonic Hall and running through May 6. "There's quite a lot to remember. It is challenging, and it's also challenging physically. It takes some stamina to get through it."
The story of a king and his descent into madness, "King Lear" was written by Shakespeare back in the first decade of the 17th century. It has been produced countless times since 1606, and was first performed in New York at the Nassau Street Theatre in 1754. Some of the more memorable Broadway productions have included Christopher Plummer, Lee J. Cobb and Orson Welles in the title role.
"I've seen some video, but never a live production of it," said Filieau, who has also performed as Judge Haywood in "Judgement at Nuremberg," the Narrator in "Our Town" and Matthew Harrison Brady in "Inherit the Wind," all with the Classic Theater Guild. "I've also done some scenes from it in some acting classes I've taken. It's a great role, especially if you're more of a, let's say, mature gentleman."
The monarch's troubles begin when he attempts to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. Laura Darling plays Goneril, the oldest daughter, Vivian Wilson-Hwang is his middle daughter, Cordelia, and Aeshley D. Grace plays Regan, the youngest.
"Lear is a tragic character with a tragic flaw, which is his poor judgement and his impatience," said Filieau. "He's not able to read people and he makes some rash decisions, quickly in the heat of the moment. He is human, and everyone in the audience is human, so he is a sympathetic character. He's almost a pathetic character, but the audience goes on this journey with him. And even though he's done it all to himself, he isn't unsympathetic."
When Shakespeare first produced "King Lear" in the 17th century, the play could take nearly five hours.
"We're not going to do that," said Shirey, who also directed "Othello" for Confetti Stage two years ago. "My assistant director, Lucy Breyer, and I went through and edited it down a bit, which is pretty hard because every word is important. But Lucy has a wonderful understanding of language and history, so we think we came up with something that's true to the story line and we're not going to keep our audience in their seats for five hours."
"King Lear" is Filieau's second performance with Confetti Stage, having been in "Private Fears in Public Places" in February of this year.
"I haven't worked with George before, but he's a pretty familiar face in our community theater world," Shirey said of Filieau, who retired from the state Department of Motor Vehicles nearly a decade ago. "I respect his work and his commitment to what he does. I've seen him in other stuff, and he showed up for our auditions extremely prepared. He's wonderful to work with."
When "King Lear" ends its two-week run, Filieau said he might take some time off from acting. Or not.
"After 'King Lear' you probably deserve a break, but the acting bug is strong," said Filieau, who graduated from Columbia High School and the University at Albany. "Maybe I'll take the summer off, but maybe I won't. Acting is like an affliction. You see a good part and you want to do it."
WHERE: Confetti Stage, the Albany Masonic Hall, 67 Corning Place, Albany
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through May 6; performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $15-$10
MORE INFO: www.confettistage.org