King Lear is as difficult to produce as it is to watch. This particularly harrowing tragedy is based upon character relationships and personal growth (or decline, as the case may be), and as such requires subtlety and nuance. The requirements of the set are unassumingly heavy, in some parts more than others.
King Lear, if you've never heard of it or don't remember it, is a family tragedy. No, not as in family-friendly (someone gets their eye gouged out), but about family. The suffering that families inflict upon each other is in the thematic spotlight, and the tragedy that follows is one of the most upsetting in all of Shakespeare.
The titular King Lear (Paul Walsky) is aging, and moves to divvy up his kingdom between his three daughters, and proceeds to ask them to tell him how much they love him. Goneril (Lynn Goodwin) and Regan (Ariana Karp) both give hollow professions of love, whereas Cordelia (14-year-old New Mexico School for the Arts student Clara West) says that she loves him only according to her familial bond. Lear disinherits her and banishes her from the kingdom, and faces the dire consequences of his actions. Meanwhile, Edmund, a bastard of the Earl of Gloucester, tricks his father into believe that his legitimate son, Edgar, is plotting against him. Gloucester, too, faces the consequences of his actions.
All in all, shit hits the fan, which all could have been avoided if Lear and Gloucester trusted their offspring. Interestingly enough, for centuries playwrights have rewritten the ending to be nice, happy and easily digestible; fortunately for us, recent directors have decided to follow through with the original. Such is the case in this production by the International Shakespeare Center, directed by Robin Williams. (Be warned: This play is loud and violent, and, in this small venue, the violence can get a little too close for comfort.)
The Adobe Rose Theatre is a cozy little venue off Rufina. If you've driven by, you might not have noticed that there's a theater there at all. The atmosphere was pretty relaxed—which I always appreciate—and there was plenty of seating and parking. There was an adorable concession stand, which had small cokes and candies. I found it pleasant, on the whole.
The acting was good, with some exceptions. Walsky's Lear was magnificent. Lear is a difficult character, who starts off a short-tempered jerk who learns basic empathy, goes insane and encounters incredible grief. Walsky pulled it off, and pulled it off well. His body language was expressive, but not overly so, and his final speech was so emotional and heart-breaking I shed tears. (Granted, I tear up just thinking about this play, but still.) Gloucester, played by Marty Madden, was done with similar skill. Madden was lively and nervous, fidgeting and pointing all over the place. He was in some clear, visible pain when he got his eye gouged out by Cornwall (Noah Segard, who himself was full of bravado and savagery). Edmund (Geoffrey Pomeroy) was fine as heck. Loud, erratic, aggressive and villainous, his monologues were chilling and, despite everything, made you feel legitimately (pun intended) empathetic towards him. I'm especially found of his first monologue: "Now, Gods, stand up for bastards!"
Cordelia, played by the talented West, was reasonably good too. Her character is not particularly complex—she is essentially just a beacon of hope and honesty—but she made the most of it. However, Karp's Regan and Goodwin's Goneril perhaps lacked chemistry: They have a strained and competitive relationship in the play, which does not come across until the second half. They're supposed to be bad people driven to do horrible deeds, but their descent into evil seems sudden and inexplicable after the hand-holding and forehead-kissing in the beginning.
The extras in the background, such as Lear's retinue, stood around awkwardly, trying to look fierce or interested in whatever the actors were saying (though not always succeeding). Sometimes, they would jump on their lines so fast after a dramatic monologue, they made the audience, including yours truly, laugh heartedly—not a good thing, if most of the characters are dead on stage. "He's dead, m'lord!" one of them yelped immediately, after five moving minutes of a sorrowful speech, drawing chuckles from the audience.
The most difficult part of the play is what was going on around the main actors. Like many plays these days, the set was very minimal. Sometimes, there would be a chair in the middle of the room, but a lot of the time the stage was empty, which occasionally fomented confusion here. When Lear and friends were wandering around in the rain, they decided to seek shelter in a random hovel. This hovel was not depicted on the set; had I not read this play before, I would be puzzled at the sudden appearance of Edgar.
Overall, it's a very good production. The acting for the most part is spot-on, and the cast really conveyed the tragedy of the situation. There are some bad bits, but the good bits were bigger. Just seeing Walsky's Lear is worth the price of admission.
7 pm Friday and Saturday Sept. 28 and 29; 2 pm Sunday Sept 30. $15-25. Adobe Rose Theatre; 1213 Parkway Drive, 629-8688; tickets here.