Sunday, August 09, 2015

In Its 20th Season, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Produces Its Best Production in "King Lear" - Final Weekend Opportunities To See This Remarkable Play

"Now has the winter of our discontent (finally) been made glorious summer . . ." by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's sumptuous production of "King Lear." Those of us who endured the worst winter in memory in Boston were able to weather the storms in part knowing that we would eventually be able to enjoy the treats that make summer in Boston such a delight - trips to Fenway, beach outings to the Cape or the Vineyard or Hampton Beach, Fireworks and the Boston Pops on the Esplanade on the 4th of July, Fiestas in the North End, fresh lobster rolls, ubiquitous food trucks and Shakespeare on Boston Common.

You know the basic plot.  Aging King Lear, feeling his mortality sets out a succession plan to divide his kingdom among his three daughters - Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. In an ill-advised stratagem, he asks them to declare their love for him in as flowery language as they can muster.  Goneril and Regan are willing to play the game, and serve up so much purple prose and fawning bullshit that it sounds like a GOP candidates debate.

Cordelia sees the hypocrisy, and simply states that her love for her father should speak for itself.  She has proven to be a loyal subject and devoted daughter throughout her life, and is unwilling to gild the lily. He asks her for more in the way of praise and adulation, and when she holds firm, he makes the fatal mistake of judging that her love for him is less than that of Goneril and Regan.  He summarily banishes her and refuses to pay a dowry when suitors ask for her hand.  He divides her share of the kingdom among Goneril and Regan, and all hell breaks lose in the wake of his blind decision.

Blindness is a persistent theme in this tragedy - physical blindness as well as emotional and spiritual.  Betrayal and family strife are also continuing motifs.  Not only is Lear dealing with treachery at the hands of his daughters to whom he has ceded the kingdom, but his friend Gloucester is betrayed by his illegitimate son, Edmund, who plans to usurp his brother, Edgar's, place in their father's heart through a forged letter purporting to show treachery on the part of Edgar.

Director Steven Maler has brought his A game to this production - beginning with the casting and continuing through the staging of this epic story. Tony Award-winner Beowulf Buritt has designed a sets that is comprised of skeletal scaffolding the allows flexibility and for actions to be set in such disparate places as Lear's court, the homes of Goneril and Regan, a hut, and the moors near Dover. Lighting by Peter West, Sound by Colin Thurmond and magnificent costumes by Katherine O'Neill make for an overall feel to this production that is very professional and impressive. One particular highlight of this production is the staging of the climactic scene in which Lear, near naked, rages in a storm.  He is rained upon and wind blown as he consorts in madness with Edgar, now disguised as a mad beggar wandering upon the moors philosophizing about life .It is a moment of magnificent stage craft.

At the heart of all of this sturm und drang is Will Lyman as King Lear.  In his magnificent career on Boston stages, he has won every conceivable award and accolade for his acting.  In this role, he expands his hegemony.  He possesses the stage from beginning to end.  Part of the genius of the set is that it is hung with banners that spell out the warning: "Future Strife May Be Prevented Now."  In the early scenes, panels of these hanging banners are stripped away, revealing ever more of the skeletal infrastructure beneath the surface.  In the same way, with each progressive scene, layers of Lear's authority, vitality and sanity are stripped away by his own actions and the reactions of others to his decisions..  Lyman's Lear traces an arc of devolution with vocal and physical transformation that signal Lear's devolution from authoritarian monarch to simpering old fool in his dotage bewailing his fate and that of his daughters.  Mr. Lyman offers an interpretation one of Shakespeare's most iconic characters that is on a par with the  like of James Earl Jones or Mark Rylance.  It was like hosting a visiting by the Royal Shakespeare Company to Boston Common.

Will Lyman as King Lear
Shakespeare's "King Lear"
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
Boston Common
Through August 9
Photo by Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Mr. Lyman is supported by the work of a number of fine actors in the other principal roles.

Jerry Goodwin as Doctor/Old Man
Brandon G. Green as Oswald
Ed Hoopman as Edgar
Jeanine Kane as Regan
Jeremiah Kissel as Earl of  Kent
Deb Martin as Goneril
Libby McKnight as Cordelia
Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Duke of Cornwall
Mickey Solis as Edmund
MArk W. Soucy as Duke of Albany
Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Glocester
Brandon Whitehead as Fool

Each of these actors distinguishes themselves during the course of the three hour marathon.  Yet the time flew by as the story and this gripping presentation kept the audience - even the children - in their thrall.

Late last evening I encountered a friend who was just returning from seeing a performance of "King Lear."  "How was it?" I asked.  "Magnificent!  Just magnificent!"  That pretty well sums it up.  The show closes on Sunday evening, so grab your blanket or chair and make your way to Boston Common and put yourself under the authority of Will Lyman and company.



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