Why is King Lear so important? Is Lear the old England, sick and heading helplessly toward revolution; the older sisters breakaway states; and Cordelia the loyalist?
Is this Shakespeare looking toward the end of his life and the unavoidable loss of self-control? Anyone with a family member suffering from dementia can recognize that particular agony in this story.
Regardless, the play's range and scope is enormous -- from the political to the achingly personal. And it's in these depths that its importance and timeless appeal is surely founded, so it's no wonder that UCCS's always ambitious TheatreWorks would try to tackle it.
Let's start with Bob Pinney; he's a fantastic Lear. This role perfectly showcases his range, intelligent body, and unpredictable sense of timing. From the play's stately opening to its tragic end, the audience is with him along the discursive path where he loses his wits perfectly, going sorta pagan in the heather. There's no mockery here; Pinney has a passion for this character that takes nothing for granted.
Other performances worth noting:
Melvin Grier is so good as the Fool: there's great chemistry with Pinney -- you can tell they've worked together often.
Mark Hennessy: wonderfully nasty Edmund! Fantastic job. Great voice.
Michael Preston as Earl of Kent: very funny and agile actor, powerful voice with a quick wit.
Khris Lewin as Edgar and especially as mad Tom: Lewin worked on several productions staging the fight scenes, and that's really apparent in this production, a very acrobatic actor and great delivery as well.
Ashley Crockett as Goneril: Like a tough Irish bartender ... a pleasure to behold her wrath.
The sparsely placed cello interludes, performed by Susan Smith, set the pace perfectly, and the staging is well arranged throughout, especially for being in a tent.
Any and all technical staging isn't so techy, with the exception of the chaotic storm scene in which the mayhem of Lear's and his loyal entourage's journey out to the forest is delivered with a maelstrom of music and lights. It's the scene that holds the mystery of the play, and its handling was well executed.
As far as costumes go, it felt odd watching the sisters in the sort of Xena/New-Age-mall-chick get-ups. The costumes were designed by Lindsay Ray, whose incredible work you may have seen in the Body Packaging show at the Gallery of Contemporary Art last year. For this reason, I expected to love the look of Lear. Though there were some great pieces, overall I'd say the fusion of eras fell short of, well, fusing.
Ray's treatment of the Fool, however, is spot on. It seems to reference the costumes of an early World's Fair, the coerced native appearing in a generic sort of "authentic dress" -- the Fool's outsider status made more so by his garb. He can do or say no wrong, and what better quality for the role?
Another interesting design touch is the checkerboard tattoos that all cast members wear on some part of their body. This works well as a sort of tribal identity marker and, combined with the monochromatic costuming, suggests the situation of the characters; that all are bound to the play's parameters, its struggles suggesting our own.
Murray Ross directs the company in a seamless three-hour production, an enormous undertaking for everyone involved -- and for me to try to do it any kind of justice.
If high-school English class was long, long ago, and college Shakespeare a confusion of deadlines, then I'd certainly recommend re-reading King Lear if you plan to attend TheatreWork's remarkable production of the classic which begins their 2003 season.
-- Marina Eckler