Sunday, March 9, 2014

King Lear—NW Classical Theatre at the Shoebox Theatre—SE Portland

“Pride Cometh Before the Fall”

This classic Shakespearean tragedy is directed by JoAnn Johnson at the Shoebox Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave.  It will run through March 30th.  For further information, check out their site at

This must be Lear’s year, as it’s interesting to note that Bag & Baggage is also currently doing a production of this play, as well as OSF in Ashland this Season.  The story contains generous elements of pride, greed, deception, treachery, selfishness and downright stupidity.  Most of the players get exactly what they deserve.  And a couple, like Kent and Edgar, eventually rise above the muck.  Such is the nature of royalty and knaves…”of cabbages and kings.”

The tale concerns a rather foolish and aging Lear (Ted Roisum) dividing up his kingdom among his three daughters, the spiteful, Goneril (Melissa Whitney), the wicked Regan (Brenan Dwyer) and his favorite, the youngest, Cordelia (Clara-Liis Hillier).  The two elder siblings have equally ambitious husbands, the Duke of Albany (Anthony Green) and the Duke of Cornwall (Jason Maniccia).  Cordelia is betrothed to the Duke of Burgundy (Rob Harrison).

But, in a supreme fit of egoism, Lear first wants his daughters to pledge their love for him.  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 vain King disinherits his youngest and banishes her from his kingdom.  And, like dominoes, this event has a chain reaction, in which everything that was, is no more.

Burgundy disavows his contract with Cordelia and he and the King of France (Heath Koerschgen) depart to lick their wounds.  The Earl of Gloucester (Gary Powell) and the Earl of Kent (David Sikking) remain loyal to Lear, as does his Fool (Lauren Modica).  But Gloucester’s sons are divided on their allegiances.  Edmund (Tom Walton), the bastard son, goes whichever way will benefit him the most, playing one faction against the other.  Edgar (Jeffrey Arrington), via some deception from Edmund, flees for his life, going under the guise of a beggar named, Poor Tom.

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.  I can’t tell you more as it might spoil the plot for you.  Suffice to say, it all is hinged on, an aging monarch having not been so stubborn, or his youngest daughter been willing to suck up to her old man, this all may not have happened.  But, then, there wouldn’t have been such an intriguing story, would there?  Such is the nature of tragedies, especially in Shakespeare.  “…for the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.”

The Director, Johnson, has her work cut out for her, being that the stage area is not much bigger than most houses’ living rooms.  But she is a well-respected veteran in the theatre and does a beautiful job of keeping the story moving through the various settings, never letting us lose track of the plot.  (And I’m impressed with how both NWCT and theatrevertigo use this black box space, never letting it deter them for doing complex productions). Johnson has cast it well, with no weak links in this Shakespearean armor.  And all the actors are convincing in the specifics of their characters.

Roisum (“the Voice”) is a ready-made role for this seasoned actor.  His gradual demise from age-related senility to utter madness (and, perhaps, wisdom) is well-modulated and excitingly performed.  All three daughters, played by Whitney, Dwyer and Hillier are very dynamic in their strength and wit over the males.  Walton is a juicy villain.

Powell, Sikking and Arrington are appropriately heroic as the steadfast good-guys.  Green and Maniccia are equally convincing as their counter-parts, as the deceptive and deceived nobles.  And Modica, as the Fool, is a gem, in a jewel of a part.  (Fools or clowns in the Bard’s plays were often the alter-ego of a major character, lending wit to, perhaps, a witless or unschooled person.)

All in all, three hours well-spent.  I would recommend this play.  If you do choose to go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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