Review: "King Lear"

October 22, 2009
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Even if you only have a passing knowledge of Shakespeare's "King Lear," you probably recall that the title monarch had three daughters. Two were willing to butter him up for a bigger share of his kingdom. The other, who loved him best, refused to gush and found herself banish by her father's wrath.

Well, when the total company of Actors from the London Stage walks out on stage, there are only two women in the cast. The numbers don't seem to work out.

But they do. Kind of. One actress is playing both Goneril and Codelia. And one of the actors is playing both Edgar and his half-brother Edmund. And the gentleman playing King Lear is also covering both of his sons-in-law.

And while this may seem very confusing, it honestly isn't. In fact, the production presented Wednesday evening at Butler University by this touring group (repeated Thursday at 7:30), offered the most understandable reading of the show I've seen.

Terence Wilton feels young as Lear--he might have hung onto the crown for another twenty years--but his slip into madness is compelling and believable. Richard Neale plays much of evil Edmund in the shout range, but is a strong presence throughout. Dale Rapley has a tour-de-force conversation with himself as Gloucester and Kent (although I wasn't as ultimately moved by either as I should be). Caroline Devlin makes a strong Regan and an effective Fool (although the part would seem more suited to doubling with Cordelia). And Rina Mahony nails Goneril's viciousness condescension.

No, it didn't reach the heights of other Lears. Without sets, cast scale or much in the way of costuming, the collapsing of a kingdom and its importance beyong the family is largely lost.  And the doubling, tripling, and more of characters takes away some of the sense of death's permanence and the frailty of the human body that permeates the play. But in the hands of this sharp, nimble and well-voiced company, "King Lear" remains a remarkable evening of theater.

FYI: The American home for Actors From the London Stage is Notre Dame University, which makes them kind-of a home-state theater.

Your thoughts?

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  • Enjoyable evening
    I will admit that I had some trepidation about a nearly 3 hour (it's the entire text - no cuts), 5-actor LEAR. However, I found myself very satisfied and without any instance of boredom or mental exhaustion that I had kind of expected... I felt this interesting presentation brought the text to life in a way I hadn't seen before. Having never seen LEAR on stage, I didn't feel cheated by the lack of scenery, lighting, etc... All in all, a decent evening of classic theatre!

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