Portland actor and educator, Father Kevin Connell, has suffered a massive stroke and is recuperating at an area hospital. The news was confirmed by Scott Palmer, the director who's been working with Connell in a production of King Lear at Hillsboro's Bag & Baggage Theatre. Connell has been playing the role of Lear.
Palmer says Connell was found at his residence at Jesuit High School, where Connell teaches English. It's not known how much time might have passed between Connell's stroke and when he was discovered Monday morning. Palmer described Connell's condition as serious but not life-threatening.
"We found out he made some improvements, physically overnight," Palmer said, "and the doctors are very pleased and excited about that. We're very hopeful and prayerful. We were also told after he regained consciousness he was quoting lines from Lear to the nursing staff."
Palmer's adaptation of Lear draws from source texts that predate Shakespeare's version. The production is comprised of a relatively small cast. Connell's role would be central to the show under any circumstances, but Palmer says that's especially true for this production. No understudy was cast for the show.
After conversations with Lear's cast and crew, and the theater's board of directors, Palmer decided to proceed with the last four scheduled performances of the show in a modified way. Selections from the play will be performed, focusing on text that departs from Shakespeare's version and the characters of Lear's three daughters. The cast and crew will take part in extended talkback sessions for each show, discussing the play and Connell's contributions.
Palmer says there's been a great deal of discussion among Lear's cast and crew about the terrible irony in Connell's condition, in the midst of a three-week run of a show exploring the psychological dynamics of aging and infirmity.
"When you talk about Shakespeare people say, 'It's all so dramatic, it's not real, it's over the top'," Palmer says. "But in fact these stories are telling stories about the lives that we live. In this particular instance, it has a resonance."
Four performances are scheduled through the end of this week.
A release from Bag&Baggage says Father Connell and his colleagues at Jesuit High School have encouraged anyone concerned about his condition to make a donation in his honor to either the Jesuits or to Bag&Baggage Productions.
OPB's State of Wonder recently profiled the production. Here's the interview.