With its convoluted double plotting and contradictory nature, King Lear is one of Shakespeare's more mammoth efforts, a play notoriously difficult to pull off convincingly even with top-flight talent. For despite all the larger-than-life conniving, betrayals, and blood-letting racing through the plot, the characters themselves are simply frail, flawed, and frightened human beings.
With a multiracial cast of uneven ability, Floyd Rumohr's production at the Chekhov Theatre Ensemble nevertheless scaled this Everest with an ease that was breathtaking, displaying a vision of the piece that is startlingly clear in its intensity and execution, never losing sight of the humanity at the play's core. The production was so consistently sure of itself that it gracefully survived the disparity in casting: each character being as sharply defined and performed as each actor was able to make him, the result was a performance of remarkable unity and precision.
As Lear, Milton Carney roared through the role of the old king with a ferocity that took the audience by the throat; self-assured and commanding, he was still able to display a tragic vulnerability as he descended into madness, genuinely confused and angered by his children's behavior, yet never falling into the trap of self-pity. Fred Berman, as The Fool, gave a complementary performance, breaking the heart with his wisdom. As the cuckolded Duke of Albany, Tyree Giroux displayed a dignity that never diminished even as his rage grew, and the darkly compelling Michael Aronov took spectacular risks with the role of Edgar that paid off in an intelligent, over-the-top performance that somehow never spun out of control. Other outstanding performances included the icy, regal Regan of Sharon Gardner, the elegantly slimy Cornwall of Jason Hooper, and the neurotic, sexy Goneril of Donna Browne, as well as generally fine work from Julie Pasqual as Cordelia, John Fiske as Kent, Roy Arias as Edmund, Paul Barry as Gloucester, and, in a variety of roles, John Shaver.
Visually, the production was stunning. Sets (by Megan K. Halpern), costumes (by Andrea Huelse) and lighting (by Jason A. Cina), all in cool silvers and blues mixed with warm taupes, grays and greens, worked as a whole to delineate mood, place and character with a fluid, sophisticated (and deceptive) simplicity. Adding another level of professionalism to the evening was the haunting musical score and sound design of Margaret Pine, as well as the graceful choreography and fight sequences of Jessica Nicoll and John V. Bellomo.
Floyd Rumohr and the Chekhov Theatre Ensemble have taken on one
of Shakespeare's more daunting warhorses and delivered a production
that has raised the bar considerably for Off-Off broadway standards.
(Also featuring Tim L. Cooke, Donovan C. Knowles,
Rafael Phenix, and Matthew Schmidt)