Be it a comedy or tragedy or history, staging Shakespeare is a team sport. No matter who the title characters are, the Bard of Avon was an actor writing for an acting ensemble. Each play evokes an interlinked constellation of voices and personalities and motivations.
Seattle Shakespeare Company’s (SSC) lackluster mounting of “King Lear,” one of the greatest of tragedies, regrettably does not convey a sense of a gestalt — an entire, crumbling universe. This disjointed production at Cornish Playhouse perks up or plods from scene to scene, on the quality of individual performances and isolated moments. But the play demands that every actor be on the same page.
Director Sheila Daniels might have had something particular in mind, by casting the most skilled, robust classical players as “King Lear’s” choice older characters.
As the monarch undone by his petulance and narcissism, and a very unwise decision to divide his realm among his offspring, Dan Kremer has the rumbling-thunder voice, proud bearing and poetic elocution to give us a classical Lear in the grand tradition.
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As, respectively, Lear’s incorruptible allies Kent and Gloucester, Amy Thone and Michael Winters articulate the verse as if it were natural speech, rich and clear in meaning. (Winters, like Kremer, is an Oregon Shakespeare Festival veteran).
As Lear’s truth-telling jester, Todd Jefferson Moore is again for SSC a clown intellect. His asides and observations, as he witnesses his master’s vertiginous fall into penury and madness, are as rueful as they are clever and cogent.
But the younger graspers, schemers and victims of the play are not just a generation apart from their elders here. Too often they seem to be disconnected from the language, and from their fellow characters entwined in Shakespeare’s bloody tangle of greed, lust and brutal awareness.
The sisterly bond and rivalry between Linda K. Morris as Lear’s venal daughter Goneril, and a vocally tinny Debra Pralle as her insidious sister Regan, are only faintly sketched in until all hell breaks loose in their nasty final confrontations.
Is Edgar (Jorge Chacon), the outcast son of Gloucester, truly mad when he peels down to his undies and begrimes himself on the heath? Or is he faking it? His unshaded portrayal offers few clues if it’s one or the other, or some combination of both.
Patrick Allcorn as the put-upon husband of Goneril, and Scott Ward Abernethy as her trusted gofer Oswald, perform serviceably, as does Elinor Gunn as Cordelia, Lear’s sole loving child.
The poetic derangement of Kremer’s forsaken Lear (whose descent into madness here is very swift), and the lyrical, lamenting sorrow of Winters’ blinded Gloucester are meaningful glints in a patchy sky.
But the surrounding relationships essential to bringing the two once-noble pariahs to their knees, and to a deeper consciousness of their humanity, are barely explored. Even the villainy of the upstart Edmund (Eric Riedmann) seems isolated.
It is unclear what exactly Daniels, often an accomplished director of classics, was aiming for — not just in her casting, but also in the drab setting of clear plastic drapes and metal scaffolding. (That is, apart from one striking image where the scaffolding becomes a double-decker gurney.)
Perhaps some intended conceptual themes didn’t have the time to flower into dynamic theatrics. But with “King Lear,” to borrow a great line from the play, “Ripeness is all.”
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org