A vivid and dynamic version of Shakespeare’s King Lear unfolds beneath the trees and in the open air as Shakespeare on the Green’s season strides forth.
Director Vincent Carlson-Brown makes it full of non-stop urgency, as if Lear and other victims are caught up in some kind of infernal machine. We know the tragedy. We bear witness to its inescapable workings. V Craig Heidenreich’s powerful portrayal of the doomed ruler is a force to be reckoned with, never contained, dynamic even in diminishment, a foundation around which all else swirls. Also made dramatically and vitally clear, Molly Welsh’s insistent thunder keeps storms raging outside while, inside, everyone is tossed and turned, underscoring how much, indeed, Nature plays a significant role. Inescapable destiny and the volatile effects of human nature.
Carlson-Brown’s staging comes full of inventive, telling movement, most especially in an impressively staged balletic battle scene late in the play, as well as in an axe and shield fight between Edmund and Edgar. Throughout, he has Heidenreich command the stage. Visually significant elements include showing the Fool and Lear linked almost umbilical-like as if they were cut from the same cloth as well as the physical tussles over a deliberately primitive horn-like crown. Another good punctuation: already weakened Lear seeking comfort in his daughter Regan’s arms.
Lindsay Pape’s costumes look impressive, especially Lear’s royal robes and what sisters Goneril and Regan wear dressed for war.
As for the performances, unfortunately too many cast members declaim, more often racing through lines rather than making the best of what’s inside their speeches. They seem most influenced by each other rather than finding kinship with Heidenreich who gets the most and best from Shakespeare’s eloquent way of saying things.
Further along, John Hardy finds his way into that depth as the blinded, bewildered Gloucester, as if his earlier urgency is bound to be diminished. He and Carlson-Brown have also tellingly chosen to make Gloucester’s swift belief in Edmond’s trickery a valid parallel to Lear’s destructive impetuosity.
The casting of 13-year-old Chloe “Bill” Irwin as Cordelia looks like a valid choice. Certainly such a young princess would be appropriate to the historical period this production evokes. Irwin gave an excellent and natural leading role performance at the Playhouse in To Kill a Mockingbird. Here, though, the role calls for meaningful interpretation of a more complex text that doesn’t quite appear to be within her range.
Katie Becker Colón as Kent does not do the man justice. Kent is a strong and significant element of the story, blunt, wily, physically aggressive and a major element in how Lear’s destiny unfolds. Colón shows none of those needed qualities.
The storminess which abounds throughout feels totally right on The Green, where any minute nature can exert its unpredictable power. It reminds us that we can’t hide from how we are all tied together under the sun and in the darkness.
King Lear is performed through July 8, Young Park, Thurs., Sat. July 6 & 8: 8 p.m. Weds. July 5: 10p.m. Free.