Home » Leah’s Gals: Gender-Swapped King Lear

This “southern fried” adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” modernizes the tragedy of a king blinded by what he perceives to be love. “Leah’s Gals” changes the specifics, but keeps the impact of the original play’s premise.

The Battle of the Williams’: Shakespearean Faulkner

Produced by Mind’s Eye Podcasts, this gender-swap of original plays title character King Lear keeps the story’s premise of an old wealthy person who divides his assets to two out of his three daughters. The child who received nothing did not reciprocate their older sister’s feelings for their mother. An insincere ploy to simply gain money. The last letter changed and honorific of king removed gives Leah a bit more believability than Lear. At least in terms of historical gender norms. The character of Lear always felt odd for caring so much about how much he is adored. Factoring in the setting of a Europe before Christianity and this idea that a king would denounce their own daughter for not embellishing how much she loved her father. But I guess by the end, that’s what makes this a tragedy.

“Leah’s Gals” feels more like a William Faulkner story, but with just a drop of Shakespeare. Both are literary classics, but it’s hard to argue for Faulkner outclassing Shakespeare — especially when you add in the racist language Faulkner will use. Shakespeare has an entire play starring a black man in “Othello.”

An Adapted Retelling of King Lear

After finishing the audio drama the first time, I felt like I missed a lot between the third episode and fourth episodes and that lasted into the fifth. Listening again and it turns out I didn’t miss anything. The events just weren’t shown on the page. This jump to a post-murder scene where the middle sister Zarconia tries to get answers from the oldest about why there’s a dead body in her house. Chlamydia, the older sister (yes, that’s her name), is an emotional wreck, but tells Zarconia something that doesn’t make sense and feels out of character for the youngest sister. The alternative is much darker, but there wasn’t a sense of that happening instead.

The plot of “Leah’s Gals” makes me wonder how much of the source material was Mind’s Eye Podcasts drawing from. Maybe if I’d seen or read “King Lear” before, this might’ve been more obvious. Aside from the first episode following the beats of the opening premise, it’s unclear how much of the rest correlates with Shakespeare’s original.

Two Stories from One Play

Removing the nobility aspect of the play in this five-episode audio drama makes it an almost entirely different story. I haven’t experienced “King Lear,” but after doing some research, I know the number of characters in the play is larger than in the audio drama. It also has a lot more subplots than “Leah’s Gals.”

Whether they streamlined some characters and merged storylines together, I obviously don’t know. Even if that’s the case the last two episodes feel almost like they belong in a different story than the first three. The tone drastically shifts from calm to chaotic. Almost as if time has passed between episodes three and four. How much time ticked by is quite a lot. That’s not even the first instance of time passing.

That would belong to the beginning of episode two, which takes place right after the end of episode one. After the scene with Frankie and Patina talking about their romantic relationship, time has passed as Leah and her friend Pearl have been staying with the oldest daughter. Enough time passed that Chlamydia is tired of the two of them staying there. Time stays steady through to the end of episode four without any jumping around in time. A seemingly inordinate amount of time passed between episodes three and four. Enough that a murder occurred before the fourth episode even started. These two storytelling speeds left me with whiplash, which I don’t think was the intention.

King Lear and Feminist Theory

The first episode leading up the retelling of the very first scene in “King Lear” can be seen differently than the play. As mentioned earlier, having Lear so worried about people’s perception of him feels out of touch with the gender norms of the time. At least what most would expect in a pre-modernized world, such as women’s rights being non-existent. Another aspect that feels like it would be different from the play is treating the husbands of the older two sisters as not the sharpest person around. Their wives very much wear the pants in the relationship. All we hear them do is moan and complain about why they’re there in Leah’s home. That is, until we get to the fourth episode and their personalities switch.

Suddenly, one of the husbands is taking charge and planning ahead to avoid the potential for negative outcomes in the future. Something that feels out of character for him, but not for his wife. It’s not just the characters who aren’t acting like themselves, but the plot as well. Normally I couldn’t care less if an adapted character doesn’t behave in the same their source material doppelgänger. Every adaptation is trying to tell its own story. It shouldn’t be beholden to the rules of the original. What I do care about is when a character within a story (whether original or part of a previously established Intellectual property) doesn’t act like themselves and their actions aren’t consistent. Add in the plot feeling disconnected and this “King Lear” retelling or adaptation is good on a paper, but not in the way it’s handled.

6.5/10+ Stars