Spotlight: King Lear
Why can't Romeo and Juliet play the field and see other people? Why won't Othello just trust his wife? Among the great obstacles in Shakespearean plotting, one of the highest might be how to convince the audience to invest its sympathies in King Lear, after he's made such a thoroughgoing ass of himself in the first scene. Here the king (Kurt Schweickhardt) is relatively understated. He divides up his kingdom matter-of-factly, then settles back to wait for words of praise from the three daughters who are his beneficiaries. Regan (Corissa White) and Goneril (Dawn Brodey) are more than happy to oblige. Cordelia (Emily Gunyou), however, steps in it by refusing to flatter the old fool. In a neat piece of work, Gunyou brings a precise, unaccented delivery to Cordelia's unquestionable logic. Since she has demonstrated her devotion to Dad through a lifetime of deeds, why the sudden need for so much ass-kissing? (Shakespeare is a good deal more eloquent on this point.) Matt Sciple's direction aims for the head and eschews histrionics. The wronged Kent (Charles Hubbell) endures his exile with stoicism. And, in an original take, the Fool (John Middleton) winces in pain at his own truth-telling rather than reveling in it with malice. Middleton's fool simply can't help himself, though he leavens his put-downs of the old madman with glances of adoration and affection. The first act is long, at 90 minutes, but goes down easily. Schweickhardt traces Lear's growing madness with appropriate doses of thunder during the existential wildness of the storm. But he lends a casual silliness to later scenes, coming across at times like a burnt-out old surfer dude amusing himself in his dotage. The second act is tougher going, and a bit confusing, what with all the betrayals and role reversals and amassed armies fighting battles offstage. Starting Gate's Lear isn't a great version of the play, but it is solid and credible. Given the challenges of this monumental tale, that's far from faint praise.
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