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King Lear

a Tragedy
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3670

SHOWING : March 04, 2010 - April 04, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The ties that bind in King Lear are woven of deceit, greed, grief and joyfulness. Often regarded as Shakespeare's crowning achievement, this tragedy about the relationship between parents and their offspring shows us how quickly we can become blinded by fear and killed with love.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Tony Brown
Costume Designer Anne Carole Butler
Lighting Designer Trish Harris
Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Assistant Stage Manager Deborah McGriff
Curran/ Duke of Burgundy/ French Soldier Dan Brown
Regan Laura Cole
Goneril Erin Considine
King of France/ Oswald Matt Felten
French Soldier/ English Herald/ Lady/ Se Sevawn Foster
Earl of Gloucester Doug Kaye
English Soldier/ French Gentleman/ Knigh Brian Mayberry
Duke of Cornwall Mike Niedzwiecki
Edmund Matt Nitchie
Edgar Daniel Parvis
Cordelia/ Lear's Fool Mary Ruth Ralston
Duke of Albany Drew Reeves
French Soldier/ France's Attendant/ Knig Jeffrey Stephenson
King Lear Jeff Watkins
Old Man/ English Gentleman/ Burgundy's A Clarke Weigle
Earl of Kent Troy Willis
French Soldier/ Lady/ Servant Katie Wine
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Heartless
by Dedalus
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
3.5
For me, part of the appeal of “King Lear” is the seeming heartlessness of the characters and their deeds, Lear’s casting off of his favorite daughter on a seeming whim, the coldness of his daughters exacting their pent-up vengeances, the grim calculations of Edmund’s bid for property and position. What makes this heartlessness work is the emotional groundwork laid by the actors, the unspoken histories of the families, the no-need-to-be-spoken paradigms of the culture on display (both the Elizabethan culture of the playwright, and the more pagan pre-Christian culture of the characters).

Because of this, I have some reservations about the Shakespeare Tavern’s usual “original practice” approach to this particular piece. To be sure, we’re given a well-spoken, visually compelling reading of the play. But, because of the artifice integral to the Tavern’s style, there is a heartlessness in the production itself, a clever shell that obscures the vitality needed to connect with these characters and dulls the sadness of the final scenes.

I have always been very skeptical of the “more sinned against than sinning” description of Lear. He is, or should be, a cruel leader in a cruel time, a strong Lord who can only maintain his position by acts of strength, if not barbarity. Indeed, the affection for Cordelia is perhaps the anachronism, the humanistic flourish that makes Lear more than the sum of his times and culture.

Unfortunately, I felt that Jeffrey Watkins gave us a “by the book” Lear, delivering his lines clearly and competently, but holding back from the core emotional drivers that make Lear such an overpowering figure. As with his 2008 Antony, Mr. Watkins’s Lear is surprisingly passionless. His bursts of anger are more theatrical venting than genuine emotion. So many of his scenes are calmly declaimed rather than angrily spewed. Lear is a character swept up, swept away by the fierceness of his anger, by the suddenness of his rage. We get the usual loud “Blow winds and crack your cheeks” at the height of the storm, but even that hurricane of a vent is soon reduced to a gentle drizzly breeze. I also saw no rage against his own failing mind – no lion raging against “the dying of the light,” but a typical Shakespearean king, plotting and plotted against. Even his final grief at Cordelia’s fate is strangely subdued, a minor heart-break rather than a heart-stopping darkness.

On the other hand, Erin Considine and Laura Cole follow in the steps of the best Regans and Gonerils, those who let their cruelties be fed by a sense of vengeance rather than a shallow melodramatic villainy. They are, IMHO, the highlight of this production, delivering a subtext of family history with scant affection and too much discipline, bonding over their shared history, torn apart by their shared passions. They both even occasionally show an aura of regret, a sense that they knew they were becoming too much like their father.

Mary Ruth Ralston gives us a Cordelia with none of the life or individuality that makes this character work. Perhaps because she was burdened with an incredibly unbecoming (and unnatural-looking) wig, she never came alive for me as a character, let alone as a woman who could generate such devotion (and sense of betrayal) in Lear. On the other hand, Ms. Ralston gives an outstanding performance as the Fool, displaying an affection for Lear that seemed new and refreshing. Curiously enough, I always thought an interesting idea would be for Cordelia to follow in Kent’s footsteps and stay with her father disguised as the Fool. That the Tavern chose to have these two roles played by the same actress suggests that the idea is logistically feasible, and even gives a hint as to how the concept would work at an emotional level.

Others in the cast were also memorable – Daniel Parvis’ Edgar, Doug Kaye’s Gloucester, Matt Felten’s Oswald, Troy Will’s Kent – all gave life to their characters, to their scenes, that belied the artifice of the Tavern style. If Matt Nitchie’s Edmund could have used a few more ounces of bitterness, he was nevertheless a fine and compelling villain.

This has been a “Lear-friendly” time, with PBS broadcasting the wonderful RSC/Ian McKellan version last year, Christopher Moore’s wildly comic riff on the plot, “Fool,” still in the bookstores, and with a Georgia Shakespeare Festival version coming up in August. This tends to make me stricter with this play that with others. To be sure, I’ve seen a lot of productions that disappointed me much more than this one did. But, the play lives or dies on how much we feel Lear’s pain, how much we recognize that his fate rests on a foundation built by his own deeds. To see a Lear with a less-than-expected spark of rage, I suppose, just brings out my own heartlessness.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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A cure for that too-happy feeling
by Lady Mac
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
3.5
If the improvement in the weather has you walking with a little too much spring in your step and a little too big a smile on your face, perhaps a dose of monarchal misery is just what the doctor ordered to bring you down a notch or two. (Or perhaps, conversely, to make you feel even better about your own life…) Fortunately, “King Lear” is now playing at the Shakespeare Tavern.

There were some kinks in the production that I saw that surely will iron themselves out as the run continues (e.g., a couple of lighting miscues and an uncharacteristic stammering by Doug Kaye that actually may have been intentional).

The acting was solid, for the most part, with some exceptional performances. Daniel Parvis, fresh off another masterpiece as Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” again shows his versatility and inarguable talent as Edgar. His “Poor Tom” characterization was a little too Gollum-esque (“Lord of the Rings”), but his transformation to and from the sane and crazy versions of himself was impressive, as usual. His third persona, the unseen and tender guide for his father, was endearing; the Scottish accent was reminiscent of an earlier performance as the servant in the Shakespeare Tavern’s most recent production of “Macbeth.”

Several actors stretched by playing “against type” – or against what previous roles may have caused the audience to expect. For example, Erin Considine erased any concerns I had that she may not make me truly dislike her, given her previous performances as impossible-to-dislike women. After her very first weaselly, insincere, exaggerated speech about her “adoration” for Lear, though, Goneril was 100 percent despicable. Drew Reeves, who often does play villains, was perfect and understated as the decent son-in-law who grows increasingly uncomfortable with the circumstances until finally making some heroic decisions at the play’s conclusion.

Mike Niedzwiecki, who last month lent some ambiguity to Tybalt, is all ambiguity as the Duke of Cornwall (is he evil? isn’t he?) until his defining scene with the Earl of Gloucester, when any doubt is erased in a stomach-churning display. The absolute horror of this scene is a credit not only to the boldness of director Tony Brown but also to the actors involved, who make it realistic enough to completely appall the audience. (Warning: If you are squeamish, consider averting your eyes.)

Unfortunately, I found myself distracted by small irritations that ordinarily wouldn’t have had that effect: mountainous Rapunzel-like wigs for all three sisters, with Cordelia’s the worst (this is a shame, considering the beautiful wig that Juliet wore in February); Troy Willis’ oddly pirate-like, in-and-out accent as the disguised Earl of Kent; the wild, untamed false eyebrows on King Lear; the unflattering ribbons on the women’s dresses (probably historically accurate for the time period, given the Tavern’s track record of attention to such details, but still a distraction).

If I could change just one thing, though, I would encourage several actors in the cast to focus on clarity and just slow down a little. Yes, it’s a long play, but the rushed, sometimes mumbled dialogue – especially when combined with crazy and/or loud rantings – obscures the lines and causes the audience to lose much of what’s going on. Fine performances by Mary Ruth Ralston, Matt Nitchie and Jeff Watkins would have been even finer with a slower pace and a bit more intelligibility at times. (Scenes with feverish Lear and “Poor Tom” together could have used subtitles.)

The Shakespeare Tavern’s reuse of actors in different roles in the same play comes back to bite it a bit in this play, as several characters disguise themselves in the text. The disguised Kent, for example, would be very easy to mistake for a different character altogether and actually seems more differentiated than some of those that really are supposed to be different characters. This is a bit less of a problem with the multiple variations of the same character played by Parvis, but it still makes deciphering who is the same and who is different a little challenging for those who are not very familiar with the story (or who haven’t seen or read it in a long time).

It had been years and years since I had seen or read “King Lear,” and I had forgotten that my fundamental problem with it is that I cannot feel much (if any) sympathy for King Lear, who causes all the trouble for himself and everyone else by acting like a spoiled brat and punishing his favorite daughter for failing to suck up sufficiently. While you never want to see an old man losing his mind and suffering in the streets, it’s also a little hard to really root for him, particularly given all the horrible things that befall everyone else because of his attitude and actions. (Some other characters’ actions are puzzling, too. For example, why does Kent want to return to serve the hotheaded king who just banished him?) On the other hand, Shakespeare has provided enough sympathetic characters (Edgar, Duke of Albany, the somewhat misguided but still likeable Earl of Gloucester) to keep the audience emotionally invested through to the end.

The play is a downer but is, despite some misfires, an overall well-acted and well-directed production of the downer. I wouldn’t rank it among the Tavern’s great triumphs, but I also wouldn’t say it is anything close to a failure. It takes what it is given and does an admirable job with it. If you are a “King Lear” fan or are curious about it, be sure to catch this production, as it seldom appears on stage.
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No rooting, no downer by uppermiddlebrow
It's disappointing that Lady Mac did not much enjoy Lear. We both noted the need for clearer diction: if one misses the drift of a whole speech it sure screws up the enjoyment.

Yet Lady Mac's fundamental problem is with Shakespeare and I want to try to explain why it's not a problem for me. Of course the king misuses his divine and absolute authority. That, to be trite, is his tragic flaw. You don't have to root for him, and as Lady Mac suggests, why should you? But, to appreciate the play, you do have to feel sorrow for him and the people around him whose loyalty and honorable behavior cost them so dear. You also have to appreciate the beauty of the language: Shakespeare's writing in Lear surpasses most of his other work. It will be interesting to see others' views. Don't brush off this rare chance to see one of the greatest works in our culture.

O that way madnesse lies
by uppermiddlebrow
Saturday, March 6, 2010
4.5

The tragedy of ‘King Lear’ comes to a glorious head in the storm scenes as the king looks inward. “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.” “I have ta’en too little care of this: Take physicke, Pompe, expose thy selfe to feele what wretches feele …” and so on.

Jeff Watkins makes the poetry sing beautifully as Lear disintegrates into madness. If he seemed a touch too vigorous for an abdicating king in the opening act, that actually gives him more scope to show us his loss of power and his daughters’ cruelty taking their toll. His sadly knowing smile, as he allows the Fool to tell him home truths for which he’d earlier banished Kent, speaks volumes. This performance grows on us persuasively, carrying through to the tragic and moving climax of reconciliation, dotage and death.

There is great work, too, from the other actors whose characters develop: Daniel Parvis as mad Poor Tom and Troy Willis as the loyal Kent in disguise as a servant, though the accent made a few lines indecipherable. The ‘insult scene’ between Kent and Matt Felten as the unctuous steward is alone worth the price of admission. Gabbled speech was a serious problem with Mary Ruth Ralston’s Fool and she is simply miscast as Cordelia: where is Veronika Duerr when we need her? Erin Considine and Laura Cole play Lear’s silver-tongued, disloyal and lecherous daughters almost like the wicked stepsisters in a pantomime Cinderella. It works. Matt Nitchie does the treacherous Bastard with great physical presence and tone, but sometimes his delivery is indistinct. In general the production could use greater insistence on clear enunciation. With lines these good, we don’t want to miss any.

‘King Lear’ ruminates, of course, on relations between somewhat despotic fathers and their children. It also shows us the workings of conscience, with two fascinating cases of speaking truth to power, both times to great cost. The moral actions of Cordelia, Kent, Gloucester, Edgar and Cornwall’s servant make this, for me, a more satisfying tragedy than Othello or Hamlet. It is well that the Shakespeare Tavern has brought this wonderful, mature play to us. Perhaps the most challenging of the plays to mount, it is also richly rewarding. Productions are too rare a treat: don’t miss your chance to see this one.

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stop killing shakespeare by dutidjian
'This industrial dereliction provides a natural background for Greg Hicks's impressive Lear. The capoeira-practising actor is more urban fox than wild wolf. In madness, he has something of the forked animal about him, not because he's raw or bellowing but because he's smooth as a snake. He can move across the stage as though closing in on some quivering piece of prey; his face doesn't so much crumble as jump from one expression to another, as if he were putting on a series of masks. He even looks at home with a Carmen Miranda-style arrangement of foliage on his head. He is from the beginning his own Fool, a harsh court jester. He sweeps in with a sardonic cackle, bestowing himself on his followers from an unexpected direction; he mouths Goneril's suck-up words as she speaks them.
Alongside this steely intelligence, Kathryn Hunter's Fool is lovely because he/she/it is so childlike – a pre-sexual, white-faced scrap of a creature who sometimes preens around like a spoilt favourite and sometimes huddles up to Lear like a tear-stained infant. It might not have been a trick too far to have doubled the part with that other hanged darling, Cordelia, who Samantha Young rescues from the danger of being a sap: she is bold-faced and almost frighteningly full of zeal.'

Above is a bit of a review of a production you did not see. You might want to see it but it's far away. i saw the show you saw and could say what you said about that production only my conclusion would have been that, all that said, it was excruciatingly boring. There is a community who can sit through this kind of work and, apparently, enjoy it but Shakespeare deserves much, much better and will not get his due as long as the bar is set so low.


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