Primal Imperfection: Shakespeare Dallas’ KING LEAR

The set of Shakespeare Dallas' King Lear, designed by Donna Marquet

The set of Shakespeare Dallas’ King Lear, designed by Donna Marquet

Shakespeare Dallas ushers in North Texas’ fall season with a regal, austere production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, set on a nearly bare stage, impressively framed with somber-hued hanging banners that blaze with noble fire as stage lights wash across them. When Lear (national performance artist/ playwright Fred Curchack) makes his first entrance, pausing upstage center to survey his domain before addressing his subjects and the audience, he draws himself to full imperial height and exhibits the command of one long accustomed to it, to requiring and earning total obedience and respect from family, court and subjects. Before speaking, Curchack’s Lear assumes full ownership of the stage. He never releases it during the performance’s two acts and carries the entire production along with him, in a sometimes unsteady and unconvincing, sometimes moving and poignant way. As a critic and student of theater, overall I found myself more aware of this actor’s deliberate and sometimes jarring choices in character development and use of his voice than I would prefer. His Lear’s transition into senility felt disconnected and abrupt, which took me out of the play to scrutinize acting technique and vocalization style. I understood his surging towards stripped down, primal essentialism but had trouble following the actor’s/director’s choices in developing the believable progression towards it. Yet when Curchack’s Lear becomes plain-spoken, humble and reflective in concluding moments of painfully stoic self-awareness, he brings an encompassing serenity to the role, imbuing the dying, defeated king with a pure transcendence that flows across the stage and out into the audience. It’s a haunting, potent, if uneven, realization. Shakespeare Dallas’ King Lear continues its fall run October 1 through 11 at the outdoor Addison Circle Park. Directed by Raphael Parry.

Lear spurns Cordelia (Fred Curchack, Kelsey Godfrey)

Lear spurns Cordelia (Fred Curchack, Kelsey Godfrey)

In short, here’s what works well in this production, besides the compelling performance of Fred Curchack as Lear:

  •  Strong, interesting, clearly drawn characterizations by T.A.Taylor as Lear’s loyal Earl of Kent and David Goodwin as Earl of Gloucester’s legitimate son Edgar/Mad Tom. Both actors bring palpable energy and focus to their roles; they create characters that are very human and accessible in terms of speaking Shakespeare’s dialogue and in their characters’ motivations and arcs.
  •  The simple bold set design by Donna Marquet sets a sculpted regal scene; and the flowing, detailed, classic costumes by Jen J. Madison compliment the set and tone of the production.

And here is what doesn’t work for me:

  •  Steven Young, accomplished, charismatic actor/ playwright/scholar gives a solid performance as Earl of Gloucester, except when he wanders in and out of a British accent. Either the entire cast should use British accents, or nobody should. It took me out of the show.
  •  The three women in this production act stiff as boards and are virtually indistinguishable one from the other, except by costume. Watching actors declaim Shakespeare rigidly, by rote, gets tedious. Lots of ways Goneril and Regan can differ. Certainly Cordelia shouldn’t resemble her sisters in frozen demeanor or monotonous line delivery….
  • Admired, versatile regional actor Greg Lush seems sadly miscast as the devious traitor Edmund. He comes across as just much too nice to do all that nastiness and damage. There’s not the slightest breath of genuine lust between his character and Regan and Goneril. Edmund should embody evil and lust. He’s a major catalyst for destruction in this play, mostly decorative in this production.
  •  Stage combat: slower than mud and laboriously, boringly choreographed. A blind granny in a wheelchair could drive through the “fight scenes” without receiving a scratch. I’ve seen far better stage combat at regional children’s theatre productions. I hope this gets tuned up or reworked for the Addison audiences.

Please remember this is one critic’s honest opinion. I look at this production, like others, with intense, impassioned scrutiny. I love the theater and its expressive thespian hordes. I hold productions of Shakespeare’s works, what I consider the finest texts in the Western canon, to a very high standard. This is a worthy production, but it isn’t flawless.

October 1 through 11 at Addison Circle Park. See shakespearedallas.org for tickets.

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One thought on “Primal Imperfection: Shakespeare Dallas’ KING LEAR

  1. I value your careful distinctions and subtle shades of praise.  I ALWAYS I look forward to your reviews, they are the most valuable in the region of DFW – thanks for all the work and talent you share with the theatre-goers here.    The usual unconditional kudos heaped on Fred by his critic/fans are rarely deserved – and in fact, are probably not even appreciated by Fred himself… so your professional eye and commentary make for compelling reading, and help tremendously in choosing which plays to attend. Kudos to YOU ! Jane Holahan

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