June 24, 2012 2PM performance Reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
King Lear, playing through August 19 at Shakespeare and Co. under the direction of Rebecca Holderness, offers some surprises which will delight or confuse playgoers. One of the Bard’s longest tragedies, it has been slightly cut and plays in three hours keeping the double-edged plot intact.
In the opening scene of the play, Lear (Dennis Krausnick) banishes his only honest and loving daughter Cordelia (Kelly Galvin) and in a division of his kingdom gives all to his two deceitful and fawning daughters, Goneril (Corinna May) and Regan (Kristin Wold).
In the more prosaic subplot, the Earl of Glocester (Jonathan Croy) unwittingly banishes his loving and dutiful son Edgar (Ryan Winkles) and believes the lies his bastard son Edmund (Peter Macklin) tells him.
These two acts of the gullible old men are each fatal. Out of them grows the civil war in which both will die. The civil war that dominates much of the action introduces one of the major changes in the current presentation of the play. The action takes place not in ancient England, but in Russia in 1906, a time in which the Tsar was deposed and slain.
This change is marvelous in its own way in that it offers the costume designer (Govane Lohbauer) the opportunity to clothe the warring men in magnificent uniforms of contrasting colors, and to costume the women in furs, velvet gowns, and jewels. Set designer (Sandra Goldmark) will get mixed reviews.
The set is surreal with bare ladders, multiple small levels, a trap door, door outlines to signify indoor scenes, and great white curtains that are employed in various, and at times ingenious, ways. Again, something in this performance to love or be doubtful about. For this reviewer it did not work as Dover, especially in the heart-wrenching scene between blind Gloucester and his loyal, although banished, Edgar.
However at times the set was used delightfully. Kevin C. Coleman, as Lear’s Fool, used every inch of it in a will-o-the-wisp flitting up and about. And the curtains made even more devastating the scene of the blinding of Gloucester. There was even, in that anywhere set, room for stocks in which Kent, another trustee banished and played magnificently by Jonathan Epstein to be shackled.
Whatever audience members will make of the changes the most interesting to all will be the opportunity of experiencing the playing of Lear by Dennis Krausnick, who has in the last ten years of his busy theatrical life been working on developing his concept and acting style for the character of the king. (Radical changes in locale and time periods are often, indeed even this summer at other theatres, on display.)
Krausnick’s playing literally strips the king bare. The sad small line, “I pray you, undo this button” must be cut although even in its absence perhaps builds the interpretation. This production gives us a character with whom the actor has lived and thought for years. It is one conceived as a self-willed king of great strength but who in his dotage cannot cope with anger and frustration. For this reviewer the set did not give him enough for the storm scene and the marvelous lines in it. And one wanted more contact with the dying Cordelia, again perhaps the set?
Obviously this is an unusual Lear and one well worth seeing. It is studded with strong cast members, each moving with grace or treachery or malice. Holderness has at times made bold choices. And her play is well worth seeing; the interpretation of the role Krausnick plays is an unusually vigorous one.
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