Sunday, March 6, 2016

King Lear—Post 5 Theatre—Sellwood area

The Proud and the Profane

This classic tragedy by Shakespeare is directed by Rusty Tennant.  It is playing at their space, 1666 SE Lambert St., through March 19th.  For more information, go to their site at www.post5theatre.org

This story contains generous amounts of pride, greed, vanity, deception, treachery, selfishness and downright stupidity.  Most of the characters get exactly what they deserve.  But a couple, like Kent and Edgar, do manage eventually to rise above the primordial muck and gain a certain measure of satisfaction by the end.  Such is the nature of royalty and knaves…“of cabbages and kings.”

The tale concerns a rather vain and aged King, Lear (Tobias Andersen), dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters, the elder, the spiteful, Goneril (Ithica Tell), the wicked Regan (Jessica Tidd) and his favorite, the youngest, Cordelia (Dainichia Noireault).  The two elder siblings have equally ambitious husbands, the Duke of Albany (Keith Cable) and the Duke of Cornwall (Sam Holloway).

But, in a royal fit of egotism, Lear first wants his daughters to pledge their love for him, before he bestows these gifts.  The two eldest emit banal trivialities, which he seems pleased with.  But the youngest, not willing to play this stupid game, spouts that her love goes only as far as a child’s duty to honor the ones who gave her birth.  In a blink of an eye, everything is changed, and the proud King disinherits his youngest and banishes her from his kingdom.  She flees out of the country with the King of France (Brian Burger).  And, like dominoes, this event has a chain reaction, in which everything that was, is no more.

The Earl of Gloucester (Jim Butterfield) and the Earl of Kent (Todd Van Voris) remain loyal to Lear, as does his Fool (Philip J. Berns).  But Gloucester’s sons are divided on their allegiances.  Edmund (Heath Hyun), the bastard son, goes whichever way will benefit him the most, playing one faction against the other, as does Oswald (Stan Brown), the fey and duplicitous servant of the ladies.   Edgar (Jim Vadala), via some deception from Edmund, his brother, flees for his life, going under the guise of a beggar named, Poor Tom.  Kent also disguises his identity and becomes a messenger to Lear so that he can somehow protect his friend.

Once the dust has settled, many are dead, either by hanging, stabbing or poisoning; one blinded; true identities revealed; and an uneasy peace restore.  Such is life in the big city.  And questions still linger for from the author.  Does the Fool represent Lear’s conscience?  Is the King suffering from dementia, or is he truly mad?  Can’t tell you more as it would spoil the plot.  Suffice to say, it all is hinges on an aging monarch and a teenage child not being willing to swallow their pride (like father, like daughter?).  But, then, there wouldn’t have been such an intriguing story, would there?  Contrivances are necessary to moving the plot forward.  Such is the nature of tragedies, especially in Shakespeare:  “…for the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.”

Lear is one of those classic roles and, outside of Hamlet for the younger set, possibly the most desired role for any mature actor of Shakespeare.  And so, it is time for Andersen to ascend that throne and accept his place among theatre royalty.  His Lear is one for the Ages!  He well deserves all the accolades set before him but know that he really deserves it.  Art is not something that comes without a lot of hard work (note in my interview last month on my blog with Tobias), sacrifice and dogged determination.  Art is not something you choose to do but seeks you out and, once it finds you, is like a cruel mistress, it will test you, bless you and, like a pit bull, once it latches onto you, will never let you go.  And so, I say, may Andersen have many more days in the sun…he has earned it!

Tennant has done an outstanding job of keeping the stage essentially bare and letting the actors create the setting for us.  And what a cast he has chosen, every one a trooper.  The two “weird” sisters, Tell and Tidd, are deliciously evil, ones you would want to spank…then chop off their heads.  Noireault plays the youngest as very headstrong and determined and it works well for the role.  Hyun, Holloway and Brown are gut-wrenchingly, nasty vermin.  And Butterfield, Cable and Vadala are sad but admirable men, caught up in a world that is not of their making.

And special kudos go to Van Voris as the loyal friend to Lear.  He is an actor that is always an asset to a production and he is in fine form here, too.  He has a naturalism in his approach to acting that makes every word he says very believable.  And Berns, a long-time member of this ensemble, is a special treat as the Fool, riding that thin line between wisdom and inanity, a balancing act that he treads beautifully, another sure asset to any production.

I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.