Actors lust to play Lear, Shakespeare's complex, confusing
and ultimately crazy anti-hero of "King Lear."
The character of the troubled ruler who watches his family dissolve
into pools of blood is as malleable as any the Bard created, but
there is so much meat on the old king's bones, most journeys into
the wilderness of Lear's interior are captivating.
That is essentially what makes Shotgun Players' production of "Lear,"
which opened Thursday, such a chilling adventure. Richard Louis
James has taken a fascinating new look at Lear, and comes up with
a characterization of contrasts ranging from mighty to vulnerable,
cruel to kind and morose to pathetically insane.
James, who should be familiar to audiences of Walnut Creek's Center
Rep, since he spent a number of years as a regular performer there,
presents a unique glimpse of Lear, who becomes an increasingly pitiable
man as he disappears into the cruel nature of fate and the greed
of his own family.
At the start, Lear decides he is getting along in years and wants
to divide his territory into three parts, one for each of his daughters,
who, with their husbands, will rule the new territories. As a price
for this power, Lear asks each daughter for a vow of their unquestioning
The two older daughters, Regan (Fontana Butterfield) and Goneril
(Trish Mulholland), basking in the Cheshire grins of their husbands
and rulers to be, have no problem telling the old man they are Daddy's
girls, now and forever.
But the youngest, Cordelia (Zehra Berkman), tells her father that
of course she loves him, but her affection is not all-encompassing.
In fact, when she marries, half her love will be given to her husband.
This does not rest well with Lear, who immediately divides his
land into two rather than three, and cuts Cordelia out of the bargain
completely. This action scares off some suitors, who don't want
to enter into a dowry-free zone. But the king of France (Nick A.
Olivero), says that's OK with him, and marries the penniless daughter,
who has been banished by her father.
Before long, Lear learns the bitter truth from his elder daughters,
who successfully cut him out of the ruling business, leaving him
powerless and wandering what once was his kingdom. The situation
escalates to the point where the power couples make plans to kill
Lear, now aged, feeble and losing his mind.
And, as the plans begin to solidify, Cordelia returns and attempts
to find a way for her father to survive the plot against him.
The story is complex, but directors Patrick Dooley and Joanie McBrien
have kept the pace rapid, taking full advantage not only of the
beautiful and amazingly flexible set by Alf Pollard, but almost
the entire theater.
Acting is uneven throughout much of the production, and includes
a sometimes unfortunate variety of accents and dialects. But there
are some engaging performances, by Mulholland as Goneril, Dave Maier
as Edgar and Benjamin Privitt at Edmund. And, of course, James.