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Lane Davies plays the title role in “King Lear,” the final play in the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival’s 26th season. (Photo: Brian Stethem)

The Apocalypse Is Here in Kingsmen Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’

Innovative Production runs Fridays through Sundays from July 21 through Aug. 6

“Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide. In cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ’twixt son and father.” Sound frighteningly familiar?

These words from King Lear, written by William Shakespeare around 1605, aren’t far off from a description of the world in 2023, or really, any turbulent time in history, whether the strife is between countries, families, or within us. And those words will likely always ring true, which is why the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival’s (KSF) production of the play takes place not in a traditional setting of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, but after an unspecified apocalyptic event at an abandoned shopping mall.

“We don’t what this apocalyptic event is, or when it takes place,” said KSF co-founder and Artistic Director Michael J. Arndt, who is directing the play, “but there’s a sense of this person creating and trying to maintain power in his ‘kingdom.’”

The professional theater company will present King Lear as the second play in its 2023 summer season of outdoor performances at California Lutheran University’s Kingsmen Park, Fridays through Sundays from July 21 through Aug. 6.

Arndt said the play is “relevant in a number of ways.” He points to the popularity and critical acclaim of the HBO drama series “Succession,” which is “basically the King Lear story, just modernized.” Also, “the country is somewhat divided right now, and the idea of the play is that when you are divided, it doesn’t always work out so well.”

Props and costumes for Kingsmen’s production required creativity, based on what someone might find in a mall. So weapons are pieces of rebar, golf clubs and ski poles. The characters wear tuxedos … and Crocs.

The play is also a story about growing older. The aging Lear, as he attempts to keep ruling his battered retail realm while also dividing his kingdom among his daughters, goes mad. Arndt said this aspect of the play resonates with him personally because he retired in May as a Cal Lutheran theater professor after 43 years. On a larger scale, he said, “we struggle as well with letting go of the control we once had in our country,” whether we are an aging politician or an older citizen.

Playing Lear is KSF co-founder Lane Davies. Known for his TV roles in soap operas including “Santa Barbara” and “General Hospital,” as well as other TV shows and films, he’s a classically trained actor who also has appeared in numerous stage productions.

Arndt, who admits to a “secret self-indulgence” for post-apocalyptic films and TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and “The Last of Us,” said he is “fascinated by their central theme: someone taking control, someone coming from an average life and becoming a leader, in some cases a dictator. How do people maintain control? What is it to be afraid of what’s outside your own little world?”

When Lear wanders out into the wilderness (or in the Kingsmen setting, the streets outside the mall), Arndt said, “just as when you leave the confines of your castle, your fort, there’s danger. We don’t have zombies, but it is that fear of the outside, the unknown.”

“King Lear” will take place in Kingsmen Park on Cal Lutheran’s campus Fridays through Sundays from July 21-23, July 28-30 and Aug. 4-6. Gates open for picnics at 5:30 p.m.; shows start at 8 pm. Tickets are first come, first served.

Admission is $25 for adults; $20 for seniors 62 and older and active military, $15 for students 18 and older with ID, and free for children. Lawn boxes, which accommodate four to six people, are $100 to $120. Tickets are available for purchase online with $3 fees. For more information and tickets, visit or call 805-493-3452.