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'Lear' star Kevin Connellsuffers stroke, leaves show

The condition of Kevin Connell, the star of Bag&Baggage Productions’ “Lear” who suffered a stroked early Monday, had improved Wednesday, according to the show’s artistic director, Scott Palmer. by: COURTESY PHOTO: BAG&BAGGAGE PRODUCTIONS - Father Kevin Connell, cast as King Lear in Hillsboro-based Bag&Baggage Production's 'Lear,' suffered a stroke early Monday and will not be able to finish the plays run this weekend.

“As of last night, his speech and sensation in his left side had improved,” said Palmer, whose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is heading into its final weekend without its lead actor. “As far as doctors can tell at this early stage, there does not appear to be any major impact on his mental faculties.”

Colleagues from Jesuit High School, where Connell teaches English, found Connell unconscious in his residence March 17 after he failed to arrive for his morning class. He was transported to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland for treatment.

By Tuesday, Connell was able to lift his extremities off the bed and attempted to recite lines from “Lear,” Palmer said, cautioning that “it’s unclear how long [Connell] had been unconscious, or when the stroke occurred, so there’s no way to know what the long-term implications are. Kevin will have a very, very long road to recovery.”

Palmer anticipated Connell could be moved out of the intensive care unit Wednesday and begin rehabilitation. Meanwhile, friends of the actor and teacher had begun to hear about his medical crisis.

Phil Ruder, an economics professor at Pacific University and a friend of Connell’s since 1975, said he had planned to attend “Lear” Thursday evening and go out with his pal after the show.

“It’s a shock to all of us,” said Ruder, who went to high school with Connell in San Jose, Calif., nearly 40 years ago.

In the absence of its star, Bag&Baggage will perform highlights from “Lear” during each of the final four scheduled performances this weekend at the Venetian Theatre, followed by an open forum discussion with the actors and crew about the adaptation and Connell’s involvement in the show.

“We have all heard the old adage that the show must go on,” said Palmer, “and we know Kevin would want us to do just that — but he truly was the heart and soul of this play.”

The final four performances of “Lear” will feature a selection of scenes, in full costume, that focus on sections of the text that differ the most from Shakespeare’s original — as well as monologues from original source materials, adapted scenes for Lear’s three daughters and performances of the original score composed by Tylor Neist of Bridgetown Orchestra.

Palmer said at least one member of Connell’s family will be in attendance at each of the four final shows.

At the request of Connell and his colleagues at Jesuit, patrons and fans of Bag&Baggage are encouraged to make a donation in Connell’s honor to Jesuits Northwest (the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus) at nwjesuits.org to help defray costs associated with health insurance and cost-of-living expenses for Jesuits serving in the Pacific Northwest. Donations to Bag&Baggage Productions at bagnbaggage.org to support innovative explorations of classic theater are also welcome.

Audience members who have questions regarding tickets already purchased for the weekend, or patrons wishing to attend the final four shows to support Bag&Baggage and learn more about Connell’s work, can contact the Bag&Baggage box office at 503-345-9590 or visit bagnbaggage.org.

“Bag&Baggage also encourages all of our patrons, fans and supporters to learn the warning signs of a stroke by visiting the American Stroke Association online at strokeassociation.org,” said Palmer.




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