Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

King Lear
Beck Center for the Arts
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's review of Elton John & Tim Rice's Aida


Robert Hawkes
Photo by Andy Dudik
There is Shakespeare and then there is "SHAKESPEARE!," as in the astounding production of the Bard's great tragedy King Lear on stage in the intimate studio theater at the Beck Center for the Arts. Director Eric Schmeidl has assembled the cream of Cleveland's acting crop to portray Shakespeare's #1 dysfunctional family and packed all of this energy into a tiny 100-seat black box theater experience. The audience is close enough to feel the tension on stage.

On the surface, King Lear (Robert Hawkes) is blessed with a family and kingdom that seems to be in perfect working order. He has three loving daughters of which two are married, trusted administrators and various high ranking lords and ladies at his beck and call. The problem is that this is the calm before an earth-shattering storm that is due to arrive both literally and figuratively. Lear mentally turned the corner of sanity long ago, and what begins as a sprinkling of peculiarities turns rapidly into full blown madness.

A meeting is held to award the retiring king's vast land holdings to his daughters, but first they must declare their absolute love and appeal to his vanity. Eldest daughter Goneril (Julia Kolibab) speaks first, waxing eloquent to the point at which she wins the largest portion of land. Next is second daughter Regan (Lisa Louise Langford), who also professes false love for the retiring monarch gaining possession of her share. Lear's youngest and favorite daughter, Cordelia (Danyel Renee Geddie), honestly states that there is no manner in which to profess yer love to her father as she can only show that love in many forms. This honesty enrages Lear, who cuts her off and banishes her, redistributing the land between the other two daughters. Cordelia is spurned by one suitor, the Duke of Burgundy (Nick Sobotka), but saved from spinsterhood by the King of France (Tyler Collins), who admires her honesty.

The only person in the court to protest Lear's actions is the Earl of Kent, but Lear will have none of it and banishes the Earl (he later returns in disguise to aid his stricken monarch). Lastly, we are introduced to Gloucester (Anne McEvoy), the mother of Lear's bastard son Edmund (Daniel Telford), who plots against his legitimate sibling Edgar (James Rankin) by falsely accusing him of treason, forcing Edgar to disguise himself as a mad beggar in order to survive. With his brother out of the way, he further plots to steal the entire realm for himself.

With the approach of a raging storm, the story is set for a series of assassinations, stabbings, poisonings, imprisonment, a blinding, and madness, as the King's Fool (Jeffery Allen) and nearly last true friend tries to save Lear from himself.

Robert Hawkes has spent a lifetime in local theater preparing himself for this role of King Lear. His expertise in performing in small venue theaters perfectly suits him to give one of the most compelling and intimate portrayals of this troubled monarch. At times gentle, at times raging, and at times completely bonkers, his is a role of truth.

Hawkes is joined by a stellar cast of Cleveland veterans who include Anne McEvoy as the much maligned Gloucester, whose pivotal role is mesmerizing. Playing opposite of her is Daniel Telford as the totally creepy Edmund, who is the ultimate villain. Also on the side of evil are Julia Kolibab and Lisa Louise Langford as the two-faced plotting daughters you love to hate. James Rankin does an extraordinary job as Edgar as he transforms from meek and mild bookworm into a raging, dirt-covered, cave-dwelling, mad recluse and future monarch material. Other notables include Jeffery Allen as the Fool and David Hansen as the Earl of Kent, both adding greatly as champions of the king.

The set design by Walter Boswell is a series of black risers, columns and blocks which are distributed quite effectively for each scene. The costuming by Kerry McCarthy is modern yet befitting each character. The exquisite lighting by Trad Burns perfectly segregates each scene in order to allow total concentration on the action at hand.

With its bare bones set and costuming in this small theater, the audience is in for an intimate and totally immersive experience of Shakespeare as you rarely see it. The only way to make it more compelling would be to assign lines to the audience members. This is truly one of the best cast and most vivid productions of this outstanding drama. Buy a ticket and be amazed.

King Lear, through June 30, 2019, at Beck Center for the Arts Studio Theater, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood OH. For tickets and information visit www.beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540.


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