King Lear

The 11 able performers in Ten Thousand Things' King Lear further discredit 19th-century essayist Charles Lamb's occasionally still-heeded view that Shakespeare's savage tragedy "cannot be acted." Sure it can be acted, just never definitively. Illuminate one aspect of the play's involute thematic tract and invariably you dim some other key component. Early in the first act, the retiring king (Stephen D'Ambrose) gathers his three daughters for a sort of encomium showdown, offering the largest third of Britain to the daughter who praises him most extravagantly.

Under Michelle Hensley's direction, Lear's principled youngest daughter, Cordelia, (Kim Schultz) seems especially cold. Her refusal to follow her sisters' fulsome lead is played too stridently, with more admonishment and sarcasm than loving frankness. Yet her harshness gives Lear's reaction an appealing complexity, allowing his vanity to blend with his pitiable senility from the get-go. Throughout, Lear partly descends into madness and partly toddles in and out of it; he seems windblown even when he's not battling the storm in the play's most famous scene. In another trade-off, Luverne Seifert's Edmund becomes the show's chief comic, earning more laughs than even Lear's fool (Jim Lichtscheidl, who offers a deft blend of Socratic gadfly and vulnerable misfit).

Seifert is deliciously funny whether he's delivering a corrosive soliloquy or fooling his mother, Gloucester (a fretful yet wry Barbara Kingsley), with slippery obeisance. Though drawing out Edmund's wit dampens his menace, it at times makes his evil more immediate, in that laughter-makes-you-feel-complicit way.

So, uh, Merry Christmas: May plumbing humanity's boundless capacity for evil make your yuletide bright.

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