Croxton's Theatre of the Rising Sun opens with `Lear'

His devotion to the Bard began with teachers here

Stage: theater, music, dance

December 25, 2003|By Adrienne Saunders | Adrienne Saunders,SUN STAFF

Miracles are the stuff of holiday legend. So staging a Shakespearean tragedy to open the day after Christmas might seem tragic to holiday cheer.

But for director and producer Darryl Croxton, the timing was exactly right for King Lear. The date marks the 397th anniversary of its first documented production, on Dec. 26, 1606, at court for James I of England.

Tomorrow night -- with actors in modern dress, against a black backdrop and in an Episcopal church -- the tragedy will serve as the inaugural production of Croxton's new theater company, Theatre of the Rising Sun.

Croxton, a Mount Vernon resident who grew up primarily in Forest Park, formed the company in April hoping to imbue the local theater community with his lifelong love of Shakespeare's work. He spent 28 years in New York as an actor in Broadway and off-Broadway productions and returned to Baltimore about 10 years ago to be closer to family.

King Lear follows the downfall of a king after he challenges his three daughters to prove their love for him in exchange for handsome inheritances. He disowns his favorite daughter, Cordelia, for refusing to compete with her sisters, who eventually plot to ruin the king and Cordelia. The king dies of grief for Cordelia, who is killed on her sister's orders.

Croxton first studied Shakespeare as a student at Forest Park High School. He credits Edmundson High School, to which he later transferred, with instructing students how to perform the work rather than just having them read it silently.

"People are afraid of William Shakespeare because [his work] was never taught to them correctly," Croxton said. In his teens, he received encouragement from his vice principal, Margery Harriss, to pursue acting as a career.

"She told me as a young black boy that I could be an actor," Croxton said. He is dedicating the production to Harriss, who died in March.

Harriss' daughter, Clarinda, chair of the English Department at Towson University, saw Croxton perform as a student at Forest Park High School when she began teaching there in 1960.

"He could hold an audience like nothing I've ever seen," Harriss said. "[His performance] showed he absorbed not only the language but the meaning of the language."

Croxton plays the lead role alongside artist Joyce Scott as the king's eldest daughter, Goneril.

This production will be Scott's first performance in a work she did not participate in writing, but she welcomed the challenge and the freedom of learning to identify with a different kind of character. She has also enjoyed watching Croxton achieve a lifelong goal.

"This is a dream come true for Darryl. He's inhabiting the role of Lear for an audience and doing it at home," Scott said.

Croxton said he plans to stage primarily 19th-century works, but also to have an emphasis on Shakespeare.

The play will run through Monday at 7 p.m. at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, 2013 St. Paul St. Call 410-572-5167 for reservations; tickets are $10.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 42.

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