March 29, 2014
Thunder bellows over a land divided by family loyalties in Arin Arbus’ absorbing treatment of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Theater for New Audiences. After living “four score and upwards” King Lear divides his kingdom between the two older daughters, the fair-haired Goneril (Rachel Pickup) and the dark-haired Regan (Bianco Amato).
At first, his decision to step down while retaining his physical powers is laudable. But the test requires each daughter to profess the extent of her love for him. Cordelia and Regan, calculating their answers will maximize their inheritance, lavish him with pronouncements of love. But when King Lear’s youngest, most treasured daughter refuses the challenge, the dark tragedy unfolds.
Although married, both sisters fall for Edmund, the vile bastard son of the loygal Earl of Gloucester (Christopher McCann), Expertly manipulating the sisters’ affections, Edmund (Chandler Williams) leaps towards a ruthless power grab. His kindly brother Edgar (a fine Jacob Fishel) escapes his brother’s venom by diving into the woods disguised as a madman.
Determined to eliminate any opposition, Edgar betrays his father’s attempts to solicit aid from the King of France who has taken Cordelia as his wife. As punishment, the Duke of Cornwall (Saxon Palmer) flings Goucester over his knee, and gauges out his eyes. In one of the most affecting scenes, Edmund encounters his blind father stumbling, blind through the woods and, remaining in disguise protects him like a father caring for a newborn infant.
Normally, King Lear stomps and wails against his family and the world. But in this heart breaking production judiciously edited by Ms. Arbus, Lear internalizes as much as he externalizes the inequities of old age and agency.
Throughout the production performed amphitheater style, the live musicians (Michael Attias, Pascal Niggenkemper, Satoshi Takeishi) enriched the drama’s literal and metaphorical interior and exterior spaces outlined by the shards of light by Varcus Doshi and graced by Susan Hilferty’s expertly muted, but handsome costumes.
Very much an ensemble success, including the tangy movement sequences by John Carrafa and fight choreography by B. H Barry, this show will join the roster Lears to remember.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis