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Highlights: Actor Jamie Horton takes on one of Shakespeare’s great roles

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    Jamie Horton plays the title character in Northern Stage's upcoming production of Shakespeare's "King Lear." (Rick Russell photograph) Rick Russell photographs

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    Jamie Horton plays the title character in Northern Stage's upcoming production of Shakespeare's "King Lear." (Rick Russell photograph)

  • Wu Man, a celebrated master of the pipa, a four-stringed tradtional Chinese instrument, and an ensemble of friends perform an evening of music entitled “A Night in the Gardens of the Tang Dynasty,” at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, Jan. 25, in the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth. (Stephen Kahn photograph) Stephen Kahn photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/22/2020 5:01:02 PM
Modified: 1/28/2020 10:12:57 AM

Theater people call King Lear the Mount Everest of Shakespearean characters.

Now Jamie Horton is starting to understand why — and how high and how breathtaking the climb: After six months of growing the beard and the shoulder-length hair, and of exploring that troubled royal mind, he’ll stride into the Barrette Center for the Arts this week to play the title character in Northern Stage’s production of one of the Bard’s signature tragedies.

“It’s a great journey, this role,” Horton said on Monday, one of his few rehearsal-free days in recent weeks. “I’ve thought about doing it off and on as peers of mine have taken this on and spoken glowingly about the experience.

“This has been one of the great professional joys of my life.”

Now in his mid-60s and director of theater at Dartmouth College, Horton marks his hometown of Hanover as the starting point of the expedition. He portrayed several of Shakespeare’s characters in middle-school and high-school productions before tackling his first lead role — the frustrated suitor Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew — in 1972, his senior year at Hanover High School.

“I had great teachers in those years, people like Terry Ortwein, Jim Hunt, Eric Jones and Ray Jenness,” Horton said. “It’s quite a circle for me.”

After high school, Horton studied drama and literature at Princeton University, then embarked on a career that included 23 years as an actor and director for the Denver Center Theatre Company, and a wide range of film and TV roles that included playing an emancipation-skeptical congressman in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in 2012.

Among the 85 roles he played in Denver, before moving back to Hanover in 2006 to teach at Dartmouth, Horton describes playing Cassius in Julius Caesar as “a seminal experience.

“The gift of working on Shakespeare’s language, and exploring the depth of his characters, makes him one of the most rewarding writers you can encounter,” Horton said. “It’s like standing under a waterfall. It’s that special. It’s all right there.”

Not long after directing Macbeth at Northern Stage in fall 2016, Stephen Brown-Fried watched Horton play the title role in the off-Broadway production of Orwell in America, and started pondering his next Shakespeare project.

“It was clear then that he’s an extraordinary actor whose Lear would be worth seeing,” Brown-Fried said before the final dress rehearsal on Tuesday. Horton’s name resurfaced during a discussion a year or so later with Northern Stage artistic director Carol Dunne about staging either King Lear or The Tempest, another Shakespeare classic centered on a magnetic older man.

“We agreed that there was also an extraordinary Prospero in him. Jamie commands the stage with such authority, which is a prerequisite for Lear or Prospero.”

While rehearsing the first scene of the first act last week, Horton entered with an authority bringing to mind Patrick McGoohan’s portrayal of King Edward I — aka LongShanks — in the 1995 movie Braveheart, then proceeded to undermine it. With his eyes and his posture as much as his voice, he conjured the confusion and paranoia of the aging monarch while alerting his court to “our darker purpose” — dividing his kingdom among his three daughters.

And the court, which includes several former and current Dartmouth students of Horton’s, watched with mounting alarm.

Horton credits Brown-Fried with “helping me understand the arc of this character. He’s clearly somebody who is losing his wits. There’s clearly some cognitive decline that has created enormous fear in the man. ‘Let me not be mad, not mad, sweet Heaven!’ ”

For Horton, the ensuing madness makes Lear a challenging summit for him to scale, and makes Lear a timely tale for audiences to ponder.

While Shakespeare wrote and staged the play during the reign of King James I, “you can see a reflection of where we are now,” Horton said. “It’s a play about power, about a kingdom divided against itself by an egregious mistake. … It’s really interesting for us to look at this particular moment in our history and the history of our world through this play.

“It reflects back to us our humanity and how fundamentally flawed we are.”

Northern Stage presents preview performances of King Lear on Thursday and Friday nights at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. The production opens officially on Saturday night and runs through Feb. 9. For tickets and more information visit or call 802-296-7000.

Best bets

Guest guitarist Gyan Riley joins the Kronos Quartet for a performance mixing classical, jazz, world and post-minimalist music, including compositions of Riley’s father Terry Riley, on Thursday night at 7:30 at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium. Admission $30 to $40.

■Enfield-native singer-songwriter Brooks Hubbard plays three Upper Valley gigs this week, starting Thursday night at 6 at the Peyton Place restaurant in Orford. Next come Salt hill Pub shows in West Lebanon on Saturday afternoon at 4 and in Newbury, N.H., at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

■The Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph stages a reading of The Drag, the Mae West play subtitled A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts, on Saturday night at 7:30 in the Music Hall. Proceeds from sales of tickets ($5 to $25) benefit the Vermont Cares program for treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS. To reserve seats and learn more, visit or call 802-728-6464.

■ Silkroad Ensemble regular Wu Man evokes one of China’s golden ages with her pipa — a four-string relative of the lute — during a concert on Saturday night at 7:30 at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium. Joining her, on the theme of “A Night in the Gardens of the Tang Dynasty,” are percussionist Yaxzhi Guo and flutists Kaoru Watanabe and Tim Munro. For tickets ($30 to $40), visit or call 603-646-2422.

The Hopkins Center also will mark the Lunar New Year by hosting two of its free HopStop performances of far-eastern music earlier on Saturday. Pipa player Xin Ran and taiko drummer Stuart Paton play at 11 in the morning at Dartmouth College’s Alumni Hall in Hanover and at 3 p.m. at CSB Community Center in Claremont.

■The all-Vermont Woods Tea Company folk trio of Howard Wooden, Pete Sutherland and Patti Casey plays the sanctuary of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Upper Valley in Norwich on Sunday afternoon at 4:30. Admission $20 in advance (visit and $25 at the door.

Theater/performance art

Auditions for Valley Improv, Thursday night at 7:30 at Tracy Hall in Norwich. To reserve audition slot, visit or company’s Facebook page.

■“Yee Haws and Ha Has, ” Comedian Paul D’Angelo and Nashville singer-songwriter Lexi James, Saturday night at 8 at Claremont Opera House. Admission $25.


Dave Clark and Rob Oxford, roots and folk, Friday night at 7 at Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse. Admission by donation.

■Recycled Percussion, comic rock, concerts at Lebanon Opera House on Friday night at 7:30, Saturday afternoon at 4 and Saturday night at 7:30. Tickets $35 to $45.

■Adam Agee and Jon Sousa, Celtic folk, Saturday night at 7 at Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon. Admission $15.


Dancing with the Newport Stars contest, Friday and Saturday nights at 7 at Newport Opera House. Tickets $21 to $26 for reserved seating, $15 to $21 for general admission, with proceeds benefiting the Opera House. To reserve seats and learn more, visit

■Muskeg Music contra dance with Sugar River String Band and caller Hans Krakau, Saturday night at 7:30 at Tracy Hall in Norwich. Walk-through at 7:15 for newcomers and rusty dancers. Bring clean, soft-soled shoes. Admission $8 to $12.

Bar and club circuit

Mad Hazard Band, jazz, bossa nova and blues, Thursday night at 5:30 at the Quechee Club’s Davidson’s Restaurant.

■Cold Chocolate, Americana, Thursday night at 7 at Windsor Station; Jester Jigs, rock, Saturday night at 9:30; Bow Thayer, Americana, Tuesday night at 6.

■ Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner, Friday night at 7 at Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville.

■ Moxley Union, rock, Friday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■Singer-songwriter Ken Macy, Friday night at 8 at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon.

■Rich Thomas Duo, acoustic rock, Friday night at 9 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover; guitarist Ted Mortimer, Saturday night at 8.

■The Conniption Fits, rock, Friday night at 9 at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon; singer-songwriter Amanda McCarthy, Saturday night at 9.

■ Bluesman Arthur James, Friday night at 9 at Salt hill Pub in Newport.

■Singer-songwriter Jim Yeager, Monday night at 6:30 at 506 on the River in Woodstock.

■ OldBoys string band, folk/roots, Wednesday night at 6:30 at Kedron Valley Inn’s Ransom Tavern in South Woodstock.

Open mics, jam sessions

Alec Currier’s weekly open-mic at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, Thursday night at 8.

■ Jakob Breitbach’s acoustic jam session of roots music, Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

■Tom Masterson’s open mic, Tuesday night at 7 at Colatina Exit.

■ Jes Raymond, String Band Karaoke session of roots and Americana music, Wednesday night at 6 at The Skinny Pancake in Hanover.

■Peter Meijer’s open mic, Wednesday nights at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

David Corriveau can be reached at or 603-727-3304. Send entertainment news to


Actor Jamie Horton cited Terry Ortwein among the Hanover High School teachers who encouraged him to perform onstage. An earlier version of this story attributed an incorrect first name to the teacher.

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