The play is perhaps Shakespeare's most complex and challenging (probably even more so than Hamlet). The plot's tour of the rocky geography of the human soul, from the mountain peaks of love and loyalty to the murky valleys of greed and filial ingratitude, is brilliantly wrought with many profound insights brought out in the language, all with more portentous implications for the family of man.
Any director of this script must deal with an inherent challenge: the story is nearly all falling action after the revelations in the opening scene. How to keep the evening flowing and avoid a sense of predestination?
Director Christopher Sanderson made intelligent, resourceful use of his urban park locale in this ``environmental'' staging. Set on three hills in the southwest corner, with the audience strewn about (and welcome to move about during the show), there was a palpable sense of being in the midst of a great human conflict. Sanderson told the story as clearly as possible in spite of an intimidatingly dense text, rendering it quite lucid and approachable.
In the title role, performance artist Copernicus delivered a memorable reading of the character. He tackled the verse with a lusty, rude energy that nonetheless never skimped on technique. Indeed, he threw himself into the role on an almost elemental level, finding eloquent levels of expression to embody both the man's regal AND petty impulses. He was especially inspired in making Lear's rage both towering in spiritual force (some of his curses on his daughters really suggested he had the forces of nature at his command) and transparently impotent in effect.
The rest of the ensemble were generally quite good, with three egregious exceptions. Lear's daughters (Christina Cabot, Cerris Morgan-Moyer, Carrie Murphy) were all woefully inadequate, posturing in an actressy fashion without ever seeming either viperish or noble enough. Others more worthy of praise were Paul Barry's well-spoken, avuncular Gloucester, C. Cazedas's lupine, amoral Edmund, Tim Cusick's magnetic Albany, Amo Gulinello's sly understanding of the dual nature of the Fool (as well as his very funny adlibbing with audience members), and John Peterson's oily Oswald.
But, more than any individual performance, the most impressive acting achievement was the way in which the cast worked so well in making the emotional conflict seem both vividly personal and emblematic of something bigger, of a world coming apart. For this, Sanderson deserves great credit for overall vision.
Andrew Hill provided a serviceable lighting design, but special credit must go to Elliot Deal for yeoman's work as follow-spot operator in lighting all those figures dashing about over the three hills that made up the ``set.'' Done in modern dress with a burlap sackcloth tunic for the Fool and gold and silver lame caftans for Lear, there was no credit for costumes.
Drawbacks to theatre in the park: unchaperoned kids wandered into scenes, stray dogs found the goings-on intriguing, and the play seemed to interrupt park life (drug trafficking included), judging by violent verbal quarrels and other complaints. (Also featuring Musashi Alexander, Bill Blechingberg, Carl Bradford, Tim McDonnell, Greg Petroff, Christopher C. Sanderson, and Constance Tarbox.)
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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