Actor Rafael Jordan (#HashtagTheShow, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) is happy to be portraying Edmund in a new production of King Lear at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in Los Angeles, for many reasons. He joked about one practical consideration during our phone call, looking back to 2015 when he played the more heroic brother, Edgar, at the California Shakespeare Theater.
“It is fun now to be the other brother that stays inside and doesn’t have to be out in the cold, half-naked, especially as that one was an outdoor production,” Jordan said. “You can imagine how we didn’t have to act the cold really. Nights outside in California still get chilly!”
On Setting King Lear in a Dark Future
Lear is the story of the old leader who memorably banishes his favorite daughter and divides his kingdom between the other two daughters, setting off a struggle for power. Joe Morton (Turn Me Loose, Scandal) stars as Lear, with direction by John Gould Rubin. The Wallis production, which runs through June 6, reimagines the world as a “future American dystopia.” It incorporates technology as well as aspects of destruction from environmental issues.
In initial discussions with Rubin, Jordan recalls being intrigued about the play. “It immediately made me think of one of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler. She has a great book called Parable of the Sower, [which] is set in L.A. County. It feels like I get to be inside one of my favorite books while I’m doing Shakespeare.”
In addition to acting, Jordan studied directing and has worked as a director. Skit comedy #HashtagTheShow, which he wrote and produced with his sister, Aisha Jordan, was recently picked up by kweliTV. His past experiences in directing and with plays using mixed media are different than what he does in Lear. “As Edmund, I operate a lot of the live video that is projected on the screens. With that, there’s the idea of closeups and framing. We’re in this new age where everything wants to be portrait because it has to fit into Instagram.”
On Playing Edmund
When it comes to playing villains, Jordan emphasizes that having a “specific justification” is essential for their actions. From that first justification, an actor can build with more reasons for the villain’s journey through the play.
“As Edmund, I’m in turmoil. Then I see King Lear do this really kind of messed up thing… I learn that you’ve got to get what you need by any means necessary. It really grounds me in that these are necessary evils for greater good actually.”
Edmund’s trickery starts in the first part of the play, scenes that Jordan ranks as among his favorites. “They all run together in one sequence. I go directly from tricking my father to tricking my brother and to talking to the audience. That sequence launches me and the play out of the cannon.”
Jordan credits the camaraderie and teamwork among cast and creatives in finding the right energy and authencity in scenes. “In terms of the actual raw power and emotion, those moments kind of get created naturally. You stay grounded in what size they want to be. Then there’s the strictures of doing this for an audience and doing this for each other. There’s a need to communicate to be understood, not just emotionally but practically.”
On Music and Staging
This Lear includes unique music composition and sound design by Danny Erdberg and Ursula Kwong-Brown. Jordan liked having the composers in the rehearsal room because “it feeds so much into” other aspects of the show, whether it’s directly supporting the action or even something actors need to “push against.” There’s also sound to help create the electrical storms and glitches of the media.
At The Wallis’s Bram Goldsmith Theater, Lear is staged in the round. Jordan appreciates how a round configuration enables a viewer to see how other audience members across from them are reacting to a scene. With the opportunities, there are also challenges for actors to consider. “Have a 360 awareness versus a front proscenium awareness. Within the round particularly, make sure you’re not blocking someone for too long. Audiences will stay with you.”
The Wallis cast and creatives believe audiences will find this production exciting. “We’re tackling Lear differently,” said Jordan. “As much as there’s a lot of tech, media, and fantastic elements, there’s also a lot of humanity and heart in it that creates a different relationship for audiences to these characters.”
Visit The Wallis’s website for schedule and tickets.