Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is currently playing at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory and is directed by Marshall B. Garrett. This is an unusual production as it is presented in the original Elizabethan dialect or Original Pronunciation (OP). This is the reopening of this indoor theatre, and interestingly, it is believed Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” during quarantine in London during an outbreak of the plague.
Some believe “King Lear” to be Shakespeare’s most perfect tragedy. Unlike the self-absorbed Hamlet or the jealous Othello, Lear’s only flaw is his age. He no longer can judge his three daughters’ motives clearly. Lear is easily led by praise, but it is obvious from the way Cordelia feels toward her father, that this has happened recently. If that is the case, Lear can longer be held responsible for his actions. Like many with dementia, he has moments of clarity, but one can see there is a problem with his mental abilities. As a result, all that happens to him and his daughters is truly tragic.
…a fine production…A perfect way to go back to live theatre, this BSF production should be on your calendar.
“King Lear” has so many facets to its plots that it has been one of the most read and studied of Shakespeare’s works. Keats wrote a poem about it called “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Again.” Kurosawa’s 1985 film adaption “Ran” is set in feudal Japan, but the themes are the same.
The stage at BSF is in itself worth the price of admission. Tom Brown’s masterpiece has recreated an uncanny feeling that you are sitting at the Globe in London in the 17th century. It allows for a continual flow of action which helps keep the pace of the play from being plodding. Fittingly, Brown has a role in this production as Kent/Old Man.
In the title role, David Yezzi is quite powerful as he goes from the strong and forceful ruler early in the play to the mad, emaciated old man in the later scenes.
Abigail Funk plays both pure of heart Cordelia and The Fool who accompanies Lear through his decline. Many scholars believe The Fool was always meant to be played by the actor who plays Cordelia as the two are never on stage at the same time. They believe Shakespeare was telling the director that The Fool was actually Cordelia in disguise, trying to stay close to her failing father. Funk’s portrayal of both the loving daughter and insightful Fool shows her great range as an actor.
Brow is also listed as playing a double role. Again, it is even more obvious to the audience that the Old Man is also Kent in disguise taking care of his beloved king. Brown handles the dual role well and creates two characters that the audience can admire and respect— he is heroic and clever.
Disguises were commonly used by Shakespeare, and he uses them three times in this play. Jeff Miller is Edgar, the legitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester (Greta Boeringer Schoenberg). He also masquerades as a madman who Lear and his small group of exiles befriend. When Gloucester is blinded, Edmund, as the madman, comes to his aid. Miller brings out feelings of sympathy and admiration through his performance.
Edmund, sometimes referred to as Edmund the Bastard, is played by Rocky Nunzio. Nunzio creates a charming but deceitful Edmund whose jealously of his half-brother’s status leads him down a treacherous road. His dueling scene with Edgar is perfectly staged and one of the highlights of the production.
Schoenberg does well as Gloucester in a cross-over casting. She is excellent as the blind Gloucester whose life is now in despair.
The two jealous sisters of Cordelia who conspire against not only their sibling and father, but their spouses and each other, are finely acted by Erin Hanratty as Goneril and Nina Marti as Regan. The two help make their characters detestable villains.
The cast is nicely rounded out by Colin Riley as Albany/Curan, Zach Brewster-Geisz as Cornwall/Doctor, Marnie Kanarek as Oswald/Burgundy/Servant.
Garrett’s direction spotlights the many themes of “King Lear”—jealousy, real paternal love, how society treats the aged, how we treat those who are not mentally competent, the corruption of power, the treatment of illegitimate children, and more.
The costume designer is not listed in the program, but the costumes are a wonderful, artistic creation of Elizabethan attire, from hats to shoes.
Jamie Horrell is both the Music Director/Multi-Instrumentalist. The play starts with a few songs, and songs are placed in-between several scenes to allow bathroom breaks or a chance to stretch your legs as there is no intermission. Several of the songs actually serve as comic relief when the plot gets very intense. Jess Behar is the Original Pronunciation Director and Tegan Williams is the Fight Choreographer.
The only minor issue is when the storm breaks out, the sound effects drown out several of the actor’s lines. Perhaps they could tone it back for future performances.
If you have never seen “King Lear,” this is a fine introduction. For those who like me are seeing it again, this is a most interesting version, and you will not be disappointed. A perfect way to go back to live theatre, this BSF production should be on your calendar.
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Not for very young children due to violence.
“King Lear” runs until October 24, 2021 at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at the Kestrel in The Great Hall Theater. It is located inside St. Mary’s Community Center, a historic former church, 3900 Roland Avenue, Baltimore. MD 21211. For tickets go to this link. For more information about the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, go to their website.