‘King Lear’ gets the royal treat­ment

Clas­sic di­a­logue meets new vi­su­als at Think­ing Cap

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris­tine Dolen SOUTHFLORIDA.COM COR­RE­SPON­DENT

The time­less­ness, uni­ver­sal­ity and in­ter­pre­tive mal­leabil­ity of William Shake­speare’s great works are il­lus­trated yet again in Think­ing Cap The­atre’s new pro­duc­tion of the tow­er­ing tragedy “King Lear.”

Cen­turies be­fore Eu­gene O’Neill won the Pulitzer Prize for “Long Day’s Jour­ney Into Night,” be­fore Tracy Letts won his Pulitzer for “Au­gust: Osage County,” Shake­speare mapped the ter­rain of a vi­cious dys­func­tional fam­ily. Among the many facets of the hu­man con­di­tion artis­tic di­rec­tor Ni­cole Sto­dard ex­plores in her in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “King Lear,” a key one is this: What hap­pens when a once-great mind is be­sieged by de­men­tia?

The words in the play at Fort Laud­erdale’s in­ti­mate Van­guard Sanc­tu­ary for the Arts are Shake­speare’s, but the adap­ta­tion and vi­sion in this con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­tion are Sto­dard’s. The set by Alyiece Moretto-Watkins and light­ing by Joel De Sousa are dream­like, with sheer cur­tains doused in pale blue light sep­a­rat­ing the cen­tral play­ing area from the shad­owy realms where Lear’s de­vi­ous daugh­ters do much of their dirty work. The ef­fect is that we’re watch­ing a haunt­ing “King Lear” un­spool­ing in the old man’s dis­in­te­grat­ing, buf­feted mind.

The story, you may re­call, cen­ters on the aged King Lear (Peter Wayne Gal­man), who has de­cided to step away from the pol­i­tics and stresses of gov­er­nance, di­vid­ing his king­dom among his daugh­ters, Goneril (Jes­sica Farr), Re­gan (Casey Dressler) and his fa­vorite, Cordelia (BreeAnna Obst). But first, the nar­cis­sist in Lear — think of our tweet­ing pres­i­dent — de­mands each daugh­ter ex­pound upon her love for him.

Goneril and Re­gan ba­si­cally say the sun, the moon and the stars have noth­ing on their adored fa­ther and king. But Cordelia won’t go there.

She won­ders why Goneril would love their fa­ther more than her hus­band, the Duke of Al­bany (Joshua Josey), why Re­gan would adore Lear more than her hus­band, the Duke of Corn­wall (Car­los Alayeto).

She states that her love is no more and no less than a loyal daugh­ter owes a fa­ther. That sends Daddy Dear­est into a rage in which he promptly dis­in­her­its Cordelia and mar­ries her off to the king of France.

Lear’s hunger for adu­la­tion swiftly back­fires. His plan to al­ter­nate time with Goneril and Re­gan — both of whom see their now­pow­er­less fa­ther as a fool­ish old man — goes south. First, Goneril kicks Lear and his 100 rowdy knights to the curb. Then, Re­gan does the same.

At the same time, Ed­mund (Zack My­ers), the il­le­git­i­mate son of the Earl of Glouces­ter (Jim Gib­bons), puts deadly plots against his fa­ther and his brother, Edgar (Seth Trucks), into mo­tion while try­ing to sleep his way to the top via af­fairs with both of Lear’s cruel daugh­ters.

Near­ing the end of his life, the mad­dened, suf­fer­ing Lear has only his Fool (Obst again) and the dis­guised Earl of Kent (Steve Car­roll), a loyal friend Lear an­grily ban­ished, to help him keep body and soul, if not his mind, to­gether.

The vi­o­lence in “King Lear,” enough to fill sev­eral “Game of Thrones” episodes, is art­fully done in Think­ing Cap’s pro­duc­tion. When Alayeto’s ruth­less Corn­wall, egged on by Dressler’s cool Re­gan, gouges out Glouces­ter’s eyes, Gib­bons sits with his back to the au­di­ence as the light­ing turns red.

Then, Dressler “bandages” the blinded man’s bleed­ing eye sock­ets with her hus­band’s crim­son tie. Sim­i­larly, when My­ers’ Ed­mund wants to con­vince his fa­ther of Edgar’s treach­ery, he turns away to slice his hand, then wraps it in a red hand­ker­chief.

Sto­dard, also re­spon­si­ble for the play’s cos­tumes and sound de­sign, sug­gests a hos­pi­tal set­ting, with some of the ac­tors (Carey Hart’s Oswell, Obst’s Fool) dressed in nurse uni­forms and Lear sport­ing pa­ja­mas or a robe with a mono­grammed “L.” Some­times, the reg­u­lar thump­ing of a heart mon­i­tor flares to life. At other times, un­der the mu­si­cal di­rec­tion of Pa­trick Watkins, vi­o­lin­ist David Gue­vara un­der­scores or bridges the ac­tion, as do Bea­tles songs that re­ally do seem to com­ment on this par­tic­u­lar Shake­spearean tragedy, in­clud­ing “All You Need Is Love,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “When I’m 64,” “Nowhere Man” and “Fool on the Hill.”

In play­ing Lear, Gal­man gets one of an older ac­tor’s bucket list roles, and he makes the most of it. At first fiery, even preen­ing, he seems to de­volve be­fore our eyes un­til, at the end, his ru­ined mind shows on his slack face.

Obst cre­ates dis­tinct, ef­fec­tive char­ac­ters in play­ing the loyal Cordelia and the play­ful, ac­cented, truth-telling Fool. Chore­og­ra­pher and mu­si­cal per­for­mance di­rec­tor Kevin Black has de­vised a short dance for Lear and Cordelia near the end of the play — fa­ther on one side of the sheer cur­tain, daugh­ter on the other — that Gal­man and Obst de­liver to haunt­ing ef­fect.

My­ers, rous­ing and sly and ra­zor-sharp with the lan­guage, is a mag­net­i­cally vil­lain­ous Ed­mund. The way he uses Goneril and Re­gan, and both sis­ters’ poi­sonous at­trac­tion to him, would ben­e­fit from be­ing sug­gested even sooner.

Farr and Dressler, for­mi­da­ble women in black fish­net stock­ings, ef­fec­tively cre­ate Lear’s amoral, sharper-than-a-ser­pent’s tooth daugh­ters. Alayeto ra­di­ates dan­ger as Corn- wall, while Josey is more of a cipher as Al­bany. Trucks’ Edgar, Gib­bons’ Glouces­ter and Car­roll’s Kent nav­i­gate Shake­speare’s chal­leng­ing lan­guage and rhyming cou­plets well.

Over­all, the ef­fect of Think­ing Cap’s “King Lear” is one of sur­face cool­ness and subter­ranean pas­sion. Shake­speare’s work isn’t done of­ten enough by South Florida’s pro­fes­sional com­pa­nies, so the chance to look at “Lear” afresh, to pon­der its en­dur­ing themes and con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance, is worth tak­ing.

“King Lear” is run­ning through Nov. 18 at the Van­guard, 1501 S. An­drews Ave., in Fort Laud­erdale. Show­times are 8 p.m. Fri­day, 3 and 8 p.m. Satur­day and 5 p.m. Sun­day. Tick­ets cost $40. To or­der, call 954-610-7263 or go to Van­guardArts.org.

NI­COLE STO­DARD

Zack My­ers’ Ed­mund takes to the tub to think in Think­ing Cap The­atre’s “King Lear.”

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