Every Ounce a King

Pairing theater with a pint

You don’t have to look hard to see the parallels between King Lear, the confused, aging king of Britain, and today’s unsettled political climate. But for Raleigh’s Honest Pint Theatre Company, which is staging a production of the Shakespearean tragedy at William Peace University Theatre this month, making King Lear into a parable for modern times would be too easy.

“People may find some resonance in where we are as a country from a political standpoint, but this is not Lear-as-Trump, or Trump-as-Lear,” says Honest Pint founder David Henderson, who plays Edmund under the direction of Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s Jeremy Fiebig. “The challenge of Lear is, when you’re old enough to play the king, you physically can’t. But when you’re physically able to play Lear, you’re not old enough.”

Lead actor Simon Kaplan, with his striking white beard and adroit command of Elizabethan English, finds that sweet spot.

Henderson launched the Honest Pint Theater Company with a 2013 production of Chicago playwright Keith Huff’s two-man crime drama, A Steady Rain. The show, which he starred in with actor Ryan Brock, was a critical success. The company has staged four more productions since, including a full-length performance of Hamlet last summer in which Kaplan played King Claudius and Henderson tackled the role of the troubled prince.

Honest Pint’s mission, Henderson says, is two-fold. He wants audiences to get their money’s worth and see a great show, and they want local actors to have access to the same opportunities they’d find in cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“We train artists in a way that convinces them that, in order to be successful, they need to be in major metro areas and not at home,” Henderson says. “We lose a lot of talented people. I love Raleigh, it’s my home, and I’ve been to other places, but I just keep coming back here. ‘Buy local’ resonates with me from an artistic standpoint.”

In this case, buying local means giving audiences their money’s worth and encouraging them to engage beyond a single performance. After each production, the Honest Pint actors invite audience members to join them at the Seaboard Station taproom Oak and Dagger, for drinks and discussion. Oak and Dagger even brews special beers to celebrate the Shakespearean productions, including a wheat beer called “A Plentiful Lack of Wit,” for Hamlet.

King Lear’s beer, Henderson says, will be a mead.

“Our motto is ‘drink deep,’” he explains. “We want to give audiences what they value: an honest pint with a focus on good storytelling.”

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