D. J. Gleason is The Fool, and Robert Jason Jackson is King Lear in the Quintessence version of the legendary Shakespeare tragedy.

by Rita Charleston

An aging king creates a succession plan that divides Britain between his three daughters. Requiring each child to flatter him in order to receive their gifts, King Lear is publicly embarrassed when his youngest, most beloved child refuses. Indignant, Lear disinherits her and splits the county between the two eldest daughters, setting off a chain of events that leads Britain into civil war and the retired king into exile and madness.

One of the greatest tragedies in the English language, Shakespeare’s “King Lear” examines the sometimes self-destructive relationships between parents and their children, the danger of absolute power to the human psyche and the universal challenge of senility and providing care for our elders.

Playing at Quintessence Theatre through April 20, Robert Jason Jackson returns to Quintessence in the title role.

“I enjoy being at Quintessence,” Jackson said, “having done ‘Antigone’ and ‘Mourning Becomes Elektra’ there previously.”

Jackson also enjoys a continuing friendship with Alexander Burns, a fellow classmate he met while attending Northwestern University Chicago’s campus. Burns directs the current offering and is the Artistic Director of Quintessence.

“King Lear can be a difficult role to play at times,” Jackson said. “At the point where he goes mad, I must play him convincingly, and that means that when the show is over, I can’t just turn my emotions off. So it takes a while for me to come down from all that passion and emotion and feel rested enough to finally go to bed.”

Growing up in Cincinnati, Jackson said, “I was always an artistic kind of youngster, taking after my mother’s side of the family of artists, writers, actors, singers and so on. So when I first started college, it was with the idea of becoming a singer. But when they told me I’d have to wait about 20 years for my voice to mature until I would realize my full potential, I was discouraged. I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 to have a career, so I switched my major to acting.”

That switch ultimately paid off for the imposing actor with the deep voice. Over the years, he starred on Broadway in such classics as “Aida” and “Hedda Gabler,” “Hamlet” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, “Richard II,” for which he received an NAACP Best Actor nomination, and more. Additionally, some of his television and film credits include guest starring roles in “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “New York Undercover” and others.

Along the way, Jackson attended Temple University to earn his MFA while never forgetting his urge to sing. So over the years, his powerful voice has been heard in such presentation as the Obie Award-winning opera, “Running Man,” as a featured jazz solo vocalist at the Public Theater’s New Jazz series and a recording titled “Dancing With Cab Calloway,” among others.

Today, at age 62, the actor, director, singer and playwright enjoys wearing many hats and continuing his love of working in as many art forms as possible. Having lived in New York for some time, he eventually moved back to Cincinnati, where the art scene is flourishing.

“And where I can spend time with my family who still live there. To me, that’s very important.”

Quintessence Theatre is located at 7137 Germantown Ave. For tickets, call 215-987-4450.

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