“A national leader with cognitive impairment. A dysfunctional family with political power. Intrigue, war, and death.” (From The Fool’s Lear PR materials.) King Lear is frequently performed because of sadly ongoing relevance. Fear, greed, backstabbing, and nepotism have become national norms. Cutting the play down to two hours, however, is an ambitious and only partly successful challenge here. The tale remains compelling, but it’s difficult to make narrative jumps without secure knowledge of the original.
Synopsis: With pomp and certainty, in order to divide his kingdom, King Lear asks each of his daughters to vouchsafe how much she loves him. Goneril and Regan gush, both with clear ulterior motive. Each is given one-third of the kingdom. Favorite daughter Cordelia however, has nothing false to say and says nothing. She’s disinherited and married to the King of France. The loyal Earl of Kent is banished for defending her.
Deceived by his bastard son, Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester disinherits his legitimate son, Edgar, who goes into hiding. Both his daughters reject Lear who ends up alone with the Fool. Neither king and Fool nor his blinded father recognize Edgar as mad beggar Tom.
Cordelia lands at Dover with the French Army and sees to it that her father is safe. Her sisters have both made pacts with Edmund. They die by poison and knife. Treachery is discovered by Edgar who kills Edmund in battle, but it’s too late. Lear and Cordelia are imprisoned and murdered.
Tonight we witness the king’s banking on his pandering daughters and watch disillusionment take root. Gloucester’s situation, however, is unclear. Edmund’s plot against Edgar is sketchy.The latter suddenly morphs into mad Tom and just as suddenly regain sanity. We lose track of two daughters. When and by whom were Lear, Kent, and Cordelia captured? How do they die? Connective tissue is missed.
Annie Winneg, Mike Roche, Elizabeth A. Bell, Rober G.McKay, Mark Peters, Brian Heuer, Sean Demers, Virginia Armitage, Joe Penczak
The best reason to see this iteration is imaginative Direction. With only four chairs, projected scenery, appealing grab-bag Costumes, symbiotic Lighting (Elizabeth M. Stewart), and an evocative score and sound (prison voices are unnerving) by Ostinato Productions, Clark Kee’s rendition has its own attractions.
A wheelchair employed to ferry the king (he gets up and down) has, I’m told, been used in prior productions of King Lear. Showing humiliation, dependency on a caretaker, and the chair’s affect on relationships is, Kee says, a nod to Samuel Beckett’s End Game in which Ham is handicapped and served. The director effectively indicates deference to and annoyance with it by courtiers and relatives forced to bend and kneel. That the Fool pushes his master enabling mobility is fitting.
Kee gives both Lear and his Fool wonderful small moments, many noting esteem and affection. Hats and shawls become sentiment. Tom’s madness takes possession of him like theatrical epilepsy. Silently, the Fool ends this version in a turn reminiscent of Puck’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. v It’s splendid. Overall pacing and individual timing are adept even when an actor is less secure with language. Use of the small stage is expressive and fluid.
Despite the title, we learn no more and sometimes less about how Lear is perceived in the eyes of his Fool than we do in a full length enactment. Towards the end, The Fool consistently silent. Having the opportunity to question Kee after I wrote the preceding, I discovered, contrary to recollection, that in Shakespeare’s play, The Fool is neither present at the start nor the end of history, whereas here, he abides throughout. A choice to use only the author’s script meant Kee couldn’t put words in anyone’s mouth. He may have thought additional stage business too distracting.
Judy Krause (The Fool) is outstanding. The actress shows gut-wrenching emotion that sustains both credibility and empathy. Almost paternally touching the king speaks volumes. Clowning with like-minded Kent adds dimension. Krause moves well and lightly delivering poetic observations/riddles with tandem wisdom and mischief, never self consciousness. It’s up to her fellows (and us) to understand.
Joe Penczak, Judy Krause, Mark Peters
As King Lear, Mark Peters is a bit too low key at the start. The actor appears to be going through appropriate motions of thwarted entitlement and outraged pride. When the character grows mad, however, Peters sinks his teeth in to the role, effectively creating a mercurial, untethered mind with riveting skill.
Fariaz Rabbiani’s crackling portrayal of crazy Tom (the mad Edgar) is as graphically physical as it is verbally dramatic.
Of the rest of the company, Robert G. McKay (Gloucester) offers the calm, patrician presence (and enunciation) of Shakespearean authority, Virgina Armitage’s Regan is imaginatively cloying, Joe Penczak embodies Kent’s integrity and compassion with subdued eloquence.
Also featuring: Brian Heuer (Edmund), Elizabeth A. Bell ( Goneril), Virginia Armitage (Cordelia), Mike Roche (Albany), Seam Demers (Cornwall)
Photos by Ruth Guimera
Opening: Judy Krause and Mark Peters
IRT presents an Oldest Boys Production
In association with Accidental Repertory Theater
The Fool’s Lear – William Shakespeare’s King Lear from the Fool’s Perspective
Adapted and Directed by H. Clark Kee
Through January 26, 2019
154 Christopher Street between Washington and Greenwich