Shakespeare's tragedy KING LEAR is essentially an examination of the blindness of family life. To quote an article by Michael Ignatieff, "The idea of the tragic is always linked to the idea of fate. But nothing in KING LEAR is fated to happen. What is tragic in the play, as in life, is the way the characters will their own destruction without intending to." In the play Shakespeare depicts the destruction not only of Lear but of his entire family, set in motion by Lear's foolishness, Cordelia's stubbornness and the complex family dynamic. The question of generational obligations is explored with Lear and his daughters and also with Gloucester and his sons.
This production is visually stunning thanks to David Zinn's spiffy abstract set and costumes enhanced by Lap-Chi Chu's inventive lighting. The back wall of the set is a scarlet lacquer panel with ornate doors that in the exterior scenes is exchanged for a slanted scarlet wall. A black gauze front curtain is used to indicate scene changes. The costumes are all in grays and blacks and begin with turn of the century gowns and suits. As the play progresses the characters make an effective transition into militaristic/futuristic garb reminiscent of 1984.
The excellent lighting is also part of the set in that a large number of hanging caged work lights are used in varying patterns and at various levels. There are also low black lacquer lamps placed on the floor that cast wonderful shadows on the red wall.
Fabian Obispo's music and sound add a great deal especially during the storm. The off-stage battle sounds are particularly good - an eerie mix of horses neighing, swords clashing and machine guns.
Christian Conn, whose work I admired in BUG, is very good as Edgar. He uses an interesting dialect in his "Poor Tom" scenes to disguise himself from his blinded Father. As Edmund, Ben Bass is also good. In his soliloquy on his bastardy he gives an unusual emphasis on the final syllable of "illegitimate," repeatedly pronouncing it "mutt."
Susan Angelo makes an excellent Regan, although I'd have like to see more sadistic enjoyment from her in Gloucester's eye-gouging scene. As Goneril, Mercedes Herrero is very powerful and gives life to a character that could easily fall into a cardboard depiction of evil. Catherine Lynn Davis doubles as Cordelia and the Fool and does a credible job with both.
One of the strongest performances is Henry Woronicz as Kent. He's thoroughly believable in both his dialogue and especially his reactions. Kenneth Albers is very good as Lear in the first half, but he didn't break and weaken believably. Somehow his madness didn't seem to sap his strength.
Director Michael Donald Edwards will be moving from his position as Associate Artistic Director at Syracuse Stage to take over the helm at the Asolo Theatre in Florida. He's come up with an interesting production for his swan song, but I have a couple of bones to pick. He's made cuts - some judicious and in my opinion, some not. For example in the eye-gouging scene, (which is pretty tame in this production), he's cut Regan killing the servant who objects. Thus we never see that Regan and Goneril are equally blood-thirsty. I understand the reasoning, as even with cuts the performance runs two and a half hours, but I feel that it weakens the play, especially in the second half. Personally I also prefer an older Lear who appears closer to the "four score and upwards" mentioned in the script. My companion disagreed, but that's what makes horse races.
All in all this is a nifty production with plenty for the eye, ear and mind. It's not often one gets to see a fully mounted production of KING LEAR and this one is worth a look.
On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage/Indiana Repertory Theatre production of KING LEAR gets four and one- third oranges. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.