King Lear, according to Shelley, is "the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art exising in the world," and some critics have said that the play is superior to Hamlet, for Hamlet's problems are thrust upon him, whereas Lear's own nature creates his own problems. Rather than the drama of human relations, here we have man revolting against the moral laws of the universe and earning the wrath or support of the gods: "as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods: They kill us for their sport" or "The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us." A headstrong and arrogant old man decides to give the largest share of his kingdom to the daughter he loves the most. Fooled by the flattery of his daughters Goneril and Regan, he banishes his honest daughter, Cordelia. The other two plot to destroy him. Lear goes mad but in the process discovers his humanity. One central theme of many in this masterpiece is blindness and insight: Gloucester, like the King, realizes the truth only after he has been blinded. After physical destruction comes spiritual insight.
Surely any company deciding to do this play must do so with some trepidation, as must the actor taking on the challenge of Lear (London Times critic Harold Hobson, for example, described Olivier's Lear as "the greatest piece of Shakespearean acting I have ever seen."). Congratulations are due then to Theater Ten Ten and their director, Rod McLucas, who produced a Lear to be proud of. Set in Ancient Britain (with the characters, in skins and painted faces, often grunting and gesturing like apes), costumes uncredited, and done in the round with an almost-empty stage , the director's conception fascinated, and the play moved smoothly and excitingly through its two-and-a-half hours. Acting rangesd from good to considerably more than that. One serious concern: David Fuller as Lear was much too young for the part; in fact, he looked little older than his daughters, yet the play reminds us over and over again that he is old. It's hard to understand why Mr. Fuller could not have been made up to look old, have worn a kingly costume and added a wig or beard. 'Tis passing strange. And sad because Mr. Fuller is a fine actor, but much too strong and virile here for an old King.
Top acting honors to Mr. Fuller, nonetheless, for this, perhaps the greatest challenge in all drama; director McLucas, a very strong Gloucester; Janice Johnson as an exciting and sensual Goneril; Jason Hauser, the villainous Edmund; Mark Rimer, Kent; and Andrew Oswald, Edgar. Good work, too, from Karla Hendrick, Cordelia; Judith Jarosz, Regan; Nicholas Martin-Smith, Cornwall; and an interesting female Fool, Jeanine Serrales. Rounding out this fine ensemble: Steven Mallory, Nicholas Gray, Christoffer Horn, Erica Highberg, and Hugh Fitzgerald. All this and and an exciting duel between Edgar and Edmund (Fight Director, Joseph Travers). Bravos to all!
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Copyright 1998 Dudley Stone