Strong foundation

King Lear

By William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Donovan Johnson
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
Jan Hus Playhouse
351 East 74th Street (560-2241)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 12)
Review by Jenny Sandman

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport." So says Gloucester in Oberon Theatre Ensemble’s production of King Lear at Jan Hus Playhouse. Lear is one of Shakespeare’s seminal tragedies, with one of the most riveting mad scenes in theatre history. OTE’s production, while perhaps not the most polished, was quite charismatic and well worth seeing.

Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, Lear involves a number of subplots. But the main story is the most poignant. Lear, an aging king, wants to divide up his kingdom among his three daughters. But he asks them to prove which loves him the most. The oldest two, Goneril and Regan, offer pretty and flattering speeches; the youngest, Cordelia, merely says she has no words to describe how much she loves him. Lear flies into a rage and disowns her. Goneril and Regan begin to scheme and plot to undermine what little authority remains to Lear. Without his favorite, Cordelia, and unable to handle the betrayal of his other daughters, Lear goes mad. At the end of the play, when he discovers Cordelia has been hanged, his heart breaks, and he dies in her arms.

Set in the Bronze Age circa 500 B.C., OTE’s Lear unfolded in a quasi-Celtic landscape. The simple and unadorned gray set served double duty as a throne-room and landscape of stones. The costumes were probably not historically accurate, as they consisted mostly of robes, togas, and sandals, but clearly were a creative use of everyone’s closets, and fit the set very well. The lights and sound were adequate if bland. The direction, especially in the adaptation of the script, was quite good, although the blocking was occasionally uninspired and the fight choreography could have used a few more rehearsals.

The acting, for the most part, was outstanding, especially Karen Sternberg as the Fool, Mac Brydon as Edgar, John C. Fitzmaurice as Kent, and Chet Carlin as Lear. Laura Siner as Goneril and Josephine Cashman as Regan were a bit stiff and gave a wooden cast to some of their scenes. The rest of the cast -- Michael Hagins (Oswald), Gordon Stanley (Gloucester), Brad Fryman (Edmund), Sarah Sutel (Scribe), A.J. Tesler (Soldier), Jennifer Miranda Holmes (Cordelia), Philip Emeott (Albany), and Jenny Marie Lambert (Cornwall) -- offered simple and strong performances. Everyone had a good grasp of the intricacies of Elizabethan language.

As a whole, this Lear does justice to the power of Shakespeare’s words. While the production values were simple, they didn’t detract from the intensity of the script. Shakespeare’s plays (especially the tragedies) are difficult to do well, but when they are done well, they provide a theatrical experience unlike any other.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Jenny Sandman