Review: King Lear


Eleven bodies, the full cast, lie on the floor, strewn about in positions that suggest their deaths were violent. Suddenly the silence is shattered by a raspy sucking of air that bespeaks emotional pain of unfathomable depth. Realty has pierced Lear’s soul. As he inhales, the bodies attempt to stand, pulling up only a few inches, as if an invisible puppeteer’s strings were loose. On rubbery legs, the dead collapse – always into different positions. It’s as if Lear is willing the dead to life. His suffering at the enormity of his anger’s power suffuses him with guilt and the loss of all he held dear. At times, animated dead are catapulted across the floor. Eventually, this intricate, hypnotic agony escalates into a whirring circle.

This master class in movement is choreographed to the millisecond. The audience is primed for King Lear.

At the Drama Studio, on a bare stage, 11 barefoot actors immerse themselves in the madness let loose by King Lear when his favorite daughter, Cordelia, balks at her father’s command to describe the love she feels for him. Her sisters, Goneril and Regan’s effusive declarations seemed to come trippingly off their tongues, perhaps because they know their responses will determine how much of Lear’s estate they will inherit. Such greed is foreign to Cordelia but her father’s obsessive need for reassurance of her affection literally drives him mad.

Towards the end of the play when there is a brief scene of recognition and affection between Cordelia and her father, knowing this respite is doomed makes its failure more poignant. Later, when King Lear carries his dead daughter onto the stage, she in yards of white intensified by a brilliant white spotlight, there’s a moment when the cradling is reminiscent of The Pieta. Based upon the meticulous attention to details, I doubt the moment of beauty was accidental.

This mesmerizing production relies upon a good script, good direction, and good acting. There are minimal props – swords, a fool’s cap, masks; the deciptively casual costuming could have come from the cast’s closets. The incidental music and sound effects, and the lighting, demonstrate purposeful selection. The cues are delivered on cue.

The Tale of King Lear is appearing this Friday and Saturday, September 2 & 3, 2011, at 7:30, at The Drama Studio.