Authenticity seems to be the theme for this production. Lear (Robert Foxworth) begins the play as an inauthentic king, wanting to appear regal, generous and wise, the perfect father of a perfect family. His actions, however, belie his posturing and encourage those who surround him to be inauthentic and duplicitous. In fact, Lear pushes away those who would be honest with him, including his beloved daughter Cordelia (Catherine Gowl) and his trusted adviser the Earl of Kent (Joseph Marcell). Only the Fool (Bruce Turk) can tell Lear the truth, and he can only do so by making the truth into a joke. Lear's journey takes him at last to authenticity, even though he falls into madness en route.
Duplicity abounds in Lear's court. Edmund (Jonno Roberts), the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester (Charles Janasz), is more than willing to throw his loving father and brother Edgar (Jay Whittaker) under the train in order to obtain the power he believes he is due. He's also willing to woo both of Lear's dishonest daughters, Goneril (Emily Swallow) and Regan (Aubrey Saverino), simultaneously if that's what it will take to succeed. Meanwhile, Lear is so deluded that he can't recognize the loyal supporters who hover nearby ready to help him.
Of course, all of this dishonesty and posturing presages a story that is bound to end in tragedy, though not before Shakespeare characterizes the authenticity that might have led to a happier ending.
This is a big story with a big cast. As director, Mr. Noble has played against the size by finding ways to keep the scale as intimate a one as possible. A platform running downstage bisects the playing area and serves alternately as the king's throne, a banquet table, and a hovel in which Lear seeks shelter from the storms, both of the moor and of his mind. The rest of the stage is heavy with dead leaves, suggesting the rot that has invaded Lear's kingdom. The rear of the stage opens to allow snow to blow, thunder to sound, and trumpets to announce the arrival of invading French forces.
Mr. Noble has drawn vivid portrayals from his principals, most of whom also play major roles in the festival's other productions, The Taming of the Shrew and The Madness of George III. To single out a few of the notable performances, Ms. Swallow, who made for such a doe-eyed Kate and such an understanding and supportive Queen Charlotte, is quite the schemer as Goneril; Mr. Whittaker is positively heroic as Edgar, as well as being head over heels in love as Lucentio and constantly distressed as William Pitt the Younger; and Old Globe Associate Artist Charles Janasz contributes a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching portrayal of the Earl of Gloucester, complete with a gory scene where his eyes are plucked out.
Of course, no production of King Lear succeeds without a monumental performance in the title role, and Mr. Foxworth's performance meets the challenge. Subtle, completely thought through and under control, Mr. Foxworth demonstrates a clarity of understanding and an emotional resolve that makes Shakespeare's greatest monarch divinely human. It is a performance not to be missed.
This year's Old Globe Shakespeare Festival is overall the strongest in several years and a fitting way of celebrating the Globe's 75th anniversary season. Performances continue through September, and the plays are arranged so that one might see all three in three bucolic outdoor evenings. While Lear may be the festival's calling card, all three plays are worthy of your patronage.
The Old Globe presents King Lear, by William Shakespeare through September 23 in repertory with The Taming of the Shrew and The Madness of George III at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $78) are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623], or by visiting The Old Globe's website.
King Lear, Directed by Adrian Noble with Ralph Funicello (Scenic Design), Deirdre Clancy (Costume Design), Alan Burrett (Lighting Design), Christopher R. Walker (Sound Design and Original Music), Shaun Davey (Original Music), Steve Rankin (Fight Director), Claudia Hill-Sparks (Vocal and Dialect Coach) and James Latus (Stage Manager).
The cast includes Michael Stewart Allen (Duke of Cornwall), Donald Carrier (Duke of Albany), Andrew Dahl (Oswald), Ben Diskant (King of France), Craig Dudley (Doctor), Christian Durso (Duke of Burgundy), Robert Foxworth (King Lear), Catherine Gowl (Cordelia), Charles Janasz (Earl of Gloucester), Joseph Marcell (Earl of Kent), Steven Marzolf (Curan, Herald), Jonno Roberts (Edmund), Aubrey Saverino (Regan), Adrian Sparks (Old Man), Emily Swallow (Goneril), Bruce Turk (Fool), Jay Whittaker (Edgar), with Shirine Babb, Kevin Hoffmann, Andrew Hutcheson, Grayson DeJesus, Jordan McArthur, Brooke Novak, Ryman Sneed and Bree Welch (Ensemble).
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