10/14/2015 Jason Klinger

Twenty-Two Puppets, Two Performers, One Shakespearean Tragedy

William Shakespeare's King Lear is not a joyful gentleman.

The protagonist of the play of the same name, stung by the duplicitous backbiting of two of his three daughters, slogs through his scenes spitting vitriolic lines such as "When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools," and "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!"

The king's eroding power, faltering faith in humanity and crumbling sanity unravels with a sullen intensity.

Next week at Franklin & Marshall College, California-based touring group The Independent Eye puts its own twist on the iconic drama. The husband-and-wife team of Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller will stage "King Lear" in the Green Room Theatre — with the aid of 22 puppets.

Bishop is Lear, while Fuller is the Fool. The pair manipulate the other 20 characters in concert. The Philadelphia Alumni Writers House is sponsoring the one-time performance, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday in F&M's Green Room Theatre. Admission is free, but seating is limited.

"It's a new and different way to present Shakespeare, which can be really daunting," said Joanna Underhill, assistant director of the Writers House. "Puppets certainly are a less threatening way to stage the tragedy. It's just such a novel way to approach a piece of classic theatre. It's what Independent Eye does. They turn typical theatre on its head."

The couple previously staged puppet versions of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and "The Tempest," Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's "Frankenstein" and the ancient Sumerian poem, "Descent of Inanna" (author unknown).

Bishop and Fuller have been performing nationally for 40 years, and from 1984 to 1988 were based in Lancaster, so Monday's show is a homecoming of sorts.

"There is a lot of interest in this show in the Lancaster community," said Underhill, who along with fellow F&M staffer Lydia Brubaker, executive assistant to the provost, and friends Steve Carlson and John Cunningham operate the local theatre production group, Creative Works of Lancaster. "They're super-excited that the Bishops are coming back."

The actors have lived in California since 1999, when they left behind in Philadelphia a steady stream of grant funding and generous theatre space. They have blogged that they are happy to pursue their distinctive artistic vision, despite the travails of being entirely self-funded.

"They do the whole setup themselves," Underhill aid. "They travel in a Prius and everything they need for a show fits in it. They like being self-sufficient. And being a two-person team gives them control over their product."

IF YOU GO: The Independent Eye presents "King Lear," Monday, Oct. 19, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Green Room Theatre. Tickets are free. This event is sponsored by the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House, The Department of English and HIVE.

  • Conrad Bishop manipulates three of the 22 puppets he and his wife, Elizabeth Fuller, use to stage The Independent Eye's production of "King Lear." Conrad Bishop manipulates three of the 22 puppets he and his wife, Elizabeth Fuller, use to stage The Independent Eye's production of "King Lear." Image Credit: The Independent Eye
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