King Lear Director, Bart De Lorenzo must have a strong constitution. To tackle King Lear for one production is daunting at best. To do two versions of the same play at the same time is a major challenge. The up side is that, for the most part, he has turned his Antaeus crew into a well tuned machine that, pretty much succeeds in both presentations: The Fools alternating with The Madmen. Seeing two productions of King Lear back to back gives one the opportunity to observe not only production strengths but their weaknesses as well. It’s impossible to not compare the performances.
Harry Groener as the Madmen’s Lear approaches the king from a more physical aspect than Dakin Matthews does. Groener’s dementia advances viscerally and his mad scene toward the end of the play at once elicits sympathy and some well earned laughs. After a somewhat slow start, the performance moved a pace with the unapologetic Cordelia again well limned by Rebecca Mozo. Mozo’s contrast to her conniving sisters, Regan and Goneril (Jen Dede and Allegra Fulton each spot on and nicely textured) is reserved and cool. Very impressive is Gregory Itzen as Lear’s loyal and loudest Earl of Kent who is banished and then returns in disguise to help his king. His not so subtle aside to the audience when he reappears is a nice touch.
Stand out JD Cullum as The Fool, like Mr. Bo Jangles, lightly touches down with his lyric observations in song and dance. He’s a welcome grace note, as he should be.
It should have been mentioned in the first review that A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s well crafted costumes land somewhere around Edwardian, Victorian, and Desert Storm, purposely obscure and excellently done. Principals in each production have custom tailored wardrobe that works well.
The wicked storm in both productions has some issues that may be for a reason, but it’s tough to figure out what Lighting Designer Lap Chi Chu had in mind by draping tangled orange extension cords around tin lamp shades hanging from the flies. They are visible from the time the audience enters the theater. A couple of them drop down and swing into action during the raging storm. In nature, we see the flash and then may hear the thunder. Sound Designer John Zalewski has chosen to make the flash and thunder crashing simultaneous. The wildly swinging tangles of orange more distract from the storm than enhance it.
John Sloan as Edgar and Daniel Bess as his bastard brother Edmund have big shoes to fill. Ambitious Edmund cons the loyal Edgar who runs off and disguises himself as “Poor Tom” to avoid capture. The brothers' father, the Earl of Glouster, well played by Madmen’s Robert Pine, has now been prejudiced against his true son, Edgar. Glouster now embraces the evil Edmund in a sub-plot that addresses filial loyalty and parental gullibility. Ideally, the sons might rise to the fine aspect of Pine's Glouster. Neither really does.
TJ Marchbanks’ staged fighting is virtually the same as it is in The Fools version of the play. Stiff and barely in step with the beats laid down by DeLorenzo’s tight direction, it needs a dose of reality. Any real danger in this combat looks more about the acting than the fighting.
To experience age appropriate actors, many familiar faces from features and television, working for the love of theater itself is a gift to our community as well as an important present to the tradition of classical theatre itself. The feeling of ensemble permeates this cast as it does in the cast of Fools. Each deserves an audience ..
See both shows and make your own comparisons.
Through August 8, 2010
Deaf West Theatre
5112 Lankershim Blvd.