In “Lear’s Daughters,” female voices take stage.

by Jennifer Johnson,

Feminist prequel to famous Shakespeare play imagines sisters before “King Lear.”

  • Lear's Daughters rehearsal
    From left, Hannah Levinson, Akeylah Hernandez and Reilly Resnick rehearse for Willamette University Department of Theatre’s production of “Lear’s Daughters.” (Photo by Alayna Riley)
  • Lear's Daughters
    Akeylah Hernandez, left, and Reilly Resnick work on character development exercises. (Photo by Alayna Riley)
  • Lear's Daughters
    From left, Elizabeth Rothan, guest director of “Lear’s Daughters,” directs Kaitlyn Rickaby, Hannah Levinson, Reilly Resnick, Mary Rose Branick (seated) and Akeylah Hernandez. (Photo by Alayna Riley)
  • Lear's Daughters
    From left, Akeylah Hernandez, Hannah Levinson and Mary Rose Branick rehearse for “Lear’s Daughters.” (Photo by Alayna Riley)
  • Lear's Daughters
    From left, Mary Rose Branick, Akeylah Hernandez, Hannah Levinson and Reilly Resnick rehearse for “Lear’s Daughters.” (Photo by Alayna Riley)

Three famed sisters in Shakespeare’s oeuvre are the prime focus of a new Willamette play that speaks loudly to today’s politically charged atmosphere.

Self-worth and identity are questioned in “Lear’s Daughters,” which delves into the lives of King Lear’s three girls — Goneril, Regan and Cordelia — as they grapple with pregnancy and the queen’s death before their entrance in the classic play.

Like Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead,” the play imagines Shakespearean characters more fully realized than the Bard originally penned.

In this fictional history, devised in 1987 by the feminist Women’s Theatre Group and English novelist Elaine Feinstein, Lear’s abuse and demands spark sisterly competition as his daughters seek to find their place in a patriarchal society. Isolated and lonely, they rely on a nanny who sustains them with fairy tales.

“Lear’s Daughters” is part of a season that recognizes the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. In addition to presenting one of Shakespeare’s immortal plays — “Macbeth” — the Willamette Theatre Department chose plays that complement his work.

Portland-based guest director Elizabeth Rothan says the fast-moving, thought-provoking play smartly portrays the commodification of women and “what it takes to find your own voice when society clearly dictates what your job is.”

After watching the play, she says, audience members should “remember who they are, what their true voice is.”


Performances of “Lear’s Daughters” are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday Feb. 16–25, with matinees at 2 p.m. Feb. 19 and 25, at Willamette University’s Pelton Theatre.

Tickets are $8–$12. Purchase at the door, by calling WU Theatre Box Office at 503-370-6221, by emailing

Review more information about theatre at Willamette.

Lear's Daughters poster
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