Theatre Mirror Reviews - "King Lear"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


"King Lear"

by William Shakespearet
Directed by Rick Lombardo

Scenic Design by Janie F. Howland
Costume Design by Jane Alois Stein
Lighting Design by Mark Ketteran
Fight Director Scott Barrow
Production Stage Manager Jessica Rae Chartoff

Kent.............................James Butterfield
Gloucester.....................Richard Bowden
Edmond...............................Colin Stokes
Lear..............................Austin Pendleton
Cornwall............................Brian Abascal
Albany................................Derek Nelson
Goneril..............................Rachel Harker
Regan.................................Julie Jirousek
Cordelia..........................Laiona Michelle
Edgar...............................Shawn Sturnick
Oswald................................Scott Barrow
Fool.................................Ken Cheeseman
France/Ensemble........Jeffrey B. Calloway
Burgundy/Ensemble......Geoffrey P. Burns
Woman/Ensemble................Devon Jencks
Doctor/Ensemble...........Stacey Cervellino

"King Lear" is rarely done, and rarely done as well as on the intimate thrust-stage of The New Repertory Theatre. On Janie E. Howland's circular, dirt-covered playing space the divided kingdom of a king who has abdicated yet refused to go quietly into retirement comes apart. As his two hypocritical daughters jockey for supremacy, clouds made of chicken-wire dance and shudder above the stage, the armies of rejected daughter Cordelia invade from France and marriages and alliances whirl and crumble --- in the center of this whirling tempest stands a frail, small, white-haired old man, listening. His curses --- all he has to oppose his daughters' insults --- are useless against their onslaughts. Having given away all but his dignity, even that blows away. All that is left is the small, riveting figure of Austin Pendleton, his twisting face listening, half to the mad world around him, half to the madness whispering in his head.

Around Pendleton are fourteen excellent players who seem to be doing a new play. Their lines come carefully from deep inside --- as when Laiona Michelle's Cordelia struggles not to weep at the fury and then the degradation of her beloved father, or when Colin Stokes' Edmund the bastard smugly tells the audience his audacious intentions. James Butterfield's Kent and Richard Bowden's Gloucester begin the play guffawing about sons, and are shocked at the horrors a royal family squabble can create.

Shawn Sturnick's innocent Edgar steps onstage as a bespectacled nerd, nose in a book, then transforms himself into muddied Mad Tom to survive the tempest and finally fight for his rights. The king walks alone into the storm of his own making, Edgar and Kent and Ken Cheeseman's Fool his only companions. Cheeseman's tall fool wraps his trenchant barbs in quick, bouncy banter, his flashes of pity for his ruined king as quick and illuminating as the lightning provided by Mark Ketteran.

Rachel Harker's Goneril and Julie Jirousek's Regan are scathingly unfilial daughters, both upstaging their husbands (Brian Abascal and Derek Nelson), both in love with Edmund the bastard's brash energy, both use the haughty coward Oswald (Scott Barrow) to insult their helpless dad.

On this teacup stage, the scene is swelled betimes by a chorus in transparent masks that only exaggerate their abstract expressions. In his last royal scene which begins the action, Lear cuts their mechanically enthusiastic responses with an absent wave of his royal hand. Stacey Cervellino, Devon Jencks, Geoffrey P. Burns (who plays Burgundy) and Jeffrey B. Calloway (who plays France) in their masks might well be part of the scenery, because the focus here is always on the principals.

Director Rick Lombardo has always been sensitive to incidental sounds and music, and here calls for a percussive score apparently banged out on pipes and cans and scrap-metal, and a visible thunder-sheet shattering the storm --- and for an onstage viola (Jennifer Schuchert) to soothe the mad king's mind briefly before his end. He is as good at orchestrating these noises into significance as he is at orchestrating these stirring, insightful actors' performances into a coherent whole. Indeed, it was an act of pride for him to attempt "King Lear" with only fifteen performers before a 150-seat house --- and he should be justly proud of the show's solid success.

Love,
===Anon.


"King Lear" (till 23 October)
NEW REPERTORY THEATRE
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS
1(617)332-1646


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