Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
New Theatre begins its 19th season with the third annual Shakespeare Project. The Coral Gables company started this tradition with Hamlet back in 2002. The following year, Othello and Twelfth Night were done in repertory fashion. The ritual continues this year with King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream, marking the second year in rep. Lear opened June 19 while Midsummer opened a weekend later.
Founding Artistic Director Rafael de Acha is once again at the helm with most of the ensemble returning from last year, proving the age-old formula, "if it ain't broke ... ", the rest going without saying.
De Acha sets his interpretation of King Lear in ancient Britain. Lear is summoning his court to announce that he has divided his kingdom into three separate parts for each of his three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. But he wants each daughter to pronounce her love to him before he apportions them with a piece of his land. Both Goneril and Regan ooze their devotion to their father like a moth to a flame, their intentions showing that they just want their share of property. Cordelia, on the other hand, proclaims that her love for her father is her bond, nothing more or less.
As Cordelia is Lear's favorite daughter, he is betrayed by this action. He flies into a rage, disowning her in the process. Adding insult to injury, he sells her off to the King of France, who decrees her as their Queen. Lear's abandonment does not sit right with the Earl of Kent, who defends Cordelia. To his dismay, Lear banishes Kent to exile.
In a coinciding plot, Edmund, illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, hatches a scheme to promote himself. He plans to destroy his father by implicating his brother, Edgar. Edmund pits Edgar and Gloucester against each other; later, Edgar is declared a traitor. Now a fugitive running for his life, Edgar sheds his garments and takes on a new identity.
Speaking of new identities, the Earl of Kent takes on his own disguise as a soldier of fortune. He runs into Lear (accompanied by his jester) and gets into his good graces. Then Kent gets into a melee with a servant of the Duke of Cornwall (Regan's husband), who has Kent detained. When Lear sees this, Cornwall, Regan, and Goneril strip Lear of any retinue he has left, leaving him broken. Enraged, Lear takes Kent and the jester out into a storm with him.
Meanwhile, Edmund expedites his plot against his brother and father by aligning himself with Cornwall and Regan. Gloucester even reveals to Edmund that he will inform Lear of an impending French invasion. Edmund uses this as leverage, so he can pass the word to Cornwall, who then captures Gloucester, making Edmund's revenge even better.
James Randolph (Topdog/Underdog) plays King Lear. Randolph's tall stature represents a king who, even though he is larger than life, has been weakened by harsh desertion. Last year, Randolph had the title role in Othello. This year, his portrayal of an embattled monarch is powerful and engaging. His large frame fits the role perfectly, making Lear a tortured soul who is shaken but never knocked down until the very end.
Carlos Orizondo is a master of villainous roles. Last year, he was Othello's centerpiece as Iago. Now he slithers into the role of Edmund with no difficulty at all. Orizondo shows off Edmund as a menace, affecting and infecting everyone around him. Once he gets his comeuppance (one he should have gotten as Iago), Orizondo reveals no remorse, making Edmund a scoundrel to the very finish.
Annemaria Rajala, Tara Vodihn, and Ursula Freundlich make up the trio of Lear's daughters. While Rajala's Goneril is a sleek vixen and Vodihn's Regan is a devoted wife, Freundlich's Cordelia is a devoted daughter, making all the difference in the world. This triumvirate is to be commended for their separate and clearly defined performances of Lear's spawn.
Honorable mention goes to Robert Strain (Earl of Kent) and Odell Rivas (Edgar). Strain's presence as Kent is exciting and refreshing. He shows his loyalty to the King by being the voice of reason, even through banishment. Through Strain's energy, Kent is a character to watch. Rivas, on the other hand, has been promoted from last year's minor player to this year's designated hitter. His performance of Edgar is excellent, especially playing Edgar portraying someone else ... which happens to be Poor Tom, the crazy inmate. Edgar's reunion with his father, Gloucester (Stephen A. Neal), is bittersweet. And, even though Edgar is ready to avenge his father's death against Edmund, Rivas gives Edgar a jedi knight patience, letting us know that he'll get the job done.
Rounding out the cast: Matthew Summersgill plays a maniacal Duke of Cornwall; Euriamis Losada is the Duke of Albany (Goneril's husband); while Craig Kaul, Rafael Cubela, and Summersgill depict servants and captains decorated throughout the production. As Fool, Lear's jester, Ricky J. Martinez is the comic relief steward.
Jesse Dreikosen's set is a sparse canvas with three huge doors representing the revelation of characters going in and out. Travis Neff's lighting changes so frequently that one space is never left in the dark. The real standout is the apparel designed by Estela Vrancovich. Jet black turtlenecks form a backdrop, draped with traditional garb - soothing and frank at the same time.
Rafael de Acha directs like a music conductor. Each actor is an instrument that complements the other. Even though King Lear is a tragedy, the ensemble plays like a band in tune, because most of the cast already know each other from years of playing together. This creates great harmony. De Acha uses this experienced cast to tell a story, not just to perform a show.
It's ironic that New Theatre has opened King Lear on Father's Day weekend. As we pay tribute to our patriarchs, King Lear is not only a political drama; Shakespeare shows us how unbalanced families can be. The children compete for attention, but only one receives the prize. If one does not show the devotion a parent thinks they deserve, through miscommunication, they are punished. And even though reconciliation is on the horizon, someone always has to pay a price for it! This New Theatre production brings the Bard's words to life, resonating on many levels, letting us know that love should be a two-sided coin and not a sharp-edged sword.
"Honor your father ... that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth ... and you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in ... training and admonition ... " - Ephesians 6:2-4.
King Lear will be performed in repertory with Midsummer Night's Dream through August 22nd at 4120 Laguna Street in Coral Gables. For more information, please call the box office at (305) 443-5909 or visit www.new-theatre.org.
NEW THEATRE - King Lear (In Repertory w/ A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Cast: Rafael Cubela (King of France), Ursula Freundlich (Cordelia)*, Craig Kaul (Oswald), Euramis Losada (Duke of Albany), Ricky J. Martinez (Fool), Stephen A. Neal (Earl of Glouscester), Carlos Orizondo (Edmund)*, Annemaria Rajala (Goneril), James S. Randolph, Jr. (King Lear)*, Odell Rivas (Edgar), Matthew Summersgill (Duke of Cornwall), Robert Strain (Earl of Kent), and Tara Vodihn (Regan)*
Production Stage Manager - Betsy Paull-Rick
Musical Direction: Kimberly Daniel
Set Design - Jesse Dreikosen
Directed by Rafael de Acha *-denotes Actor's Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson