Peter Mayer is the old king this time out, and once again he's perfectly attuned himself to his latest role: blinded by pride, and played for a fool by his two older daughters. Mr. Mayer also retains all of his own bright intensity and immense stage presencefrom his noble fishing for flattery in the beginning, to his awful torment in the end. Paris McCarthy is his almost impossibly pretty Cordelia, the youngest daughter, and under the unerring direction of Milton Zoth, these two and the rest of the cast do a very fine job indeed. As the older sisters (Regan and Goneril) Kelly Schnider and Donna Northcott are terrific: two beautiful monsters lying in wait, till their jealousy over a lover and would-be king destroys them both.
As that charming, ambitious lover (Edmund), Khnemu Menu-Ra is admirably straightforward, unaffected by either guilt or too much slyness (in a role seemingly designed for colorblind casting). Aaron Orion Baker, as Edmund's half-brother, is splendid in the madness of his own exile, and their father Gloucester (Kevin Beyer) is stately and gracious, even when he's playing the fool himself. On opening night, his eye-gouging scene drew gasps and nervous giggles from the audience.
My only cavil is with all the indecipherable dialog coming out of the mouths of younger actors, whose passion gets the better of their patter, but also due to the notorious vaulted ceiling of the Grandel Theater, a former Gothic-style church. Its very high dome and arches, over a stoic web of wooden rafters, is the place where unsupported voices go to die.
However, there's also a theory (expressed most recently in Michael York's book A Shakespearean Actor Prepares) that you can mumble your way through the first half of any line of the Bard's, or lose them in the grid overhead, and come out perfectly fine if you just "stick the landing": speaking clearly on the final five beats. Of course, no self-respecting actor would do it on purpose (can you imagine declaiming "Grrr grr, grr grr grr grr, that is the question"?). But thanks to Mr. Zoth's lovely direction and plenty of experienced actors over the age of 40, we still get the sense of the play, though many, many of the younger actors' highly embroidered lines are simply lost. Maybe the problem's not so bad in the forward rows of the theater, but back in back, nearly a third of the lines were unintelligible.
The actual Fool of the piece, the lovely Miss Lindsey Trout, brings a spritely, balletic quality to the role, blowing the dust off the story now and then, and making good, witty counterpoint to Lear's bouts of black depression as they wander in the wilderness. In fact, the whole show seems one step removed from ballet, from Ms. Trout's Fool, to Ms. McCarthy's swooning corpse at the end. But even a pretty girl's terpsichorean contributions can't remove the tragic stinger, under the heat of Mr. Mayer's kingly torment.
David Brink is Kent, a lucky bit of castingin real life, Mr. Brink is rarely able to free-up his evenings for rehearsalbut once again he nails down his corner of the story with exemplary attention to wit and charm and pathos. He's one of those highly inventive performers whom, I fear, will never again get a good leading role, but like the set-up to any good joke, you really can't get to the payoff without actors just like him.
Through August 24, 2008 at the Grandel Theater, across from Powell Symphony Hall on Grand Ave., one mile north of Interstate I-64 in St. Louis's Mid-Town theater district. For information call (314) 534-1111 or visit them online at www.slsc.org.
Cast in order of appearance