BWW Reviews: Stratford's KING LEAR
Love between parents and their offspring should be unconditional. As soon as King Lear puts conditions on the love of his daughters, his life unravels: he goes mad. But what really drives him crazy? Is it remorse resulting from his bad decisions? Is it stress, worrying about his daughters? Or is simply old age - dementia or perhaps Alzheimer's?
Colm Feore has blended all three, in a gritty portrayal of Lear. One of Shakespeare's tragedies, this play opens the 2014 season at Stratford Festival. Feore is impressive as Lear with an equally good cast in this superior production.
An aged King Lear asks his three daughters to tell him how they love him, and he will divide up his kingdom among them, based on their responses. Older daughters Goneril (Maev Beaty) and Regan (Liisa Repo-Martell) give him similar embellished responses. Youngest daughter Cordelia (Sara Farb), who is kind and honest, says she has nothing to say - she feels love is self-evident. "Nothing comes from nothing," Lear replies. In a fury, he banishes her and divides his kingdom between the older daughters. Soon, they reveal their true colours and turn against their father. Too late, he realizes that Cordelia was the one who truly loved him.
Lear also banishes his loyal follower Kent, who returns in disguise to continue his devotion to the king, by keeping an on eye on him. Jonathan Goad gives a plausible interpretation of Kent's steadfast dedication.
Scott Wentworth is Gloucester, another loyal supporter of the King. He has two sons, Edgar (Evan Buliung) and Edmund (Brad Hodder) who is illegitimate. Little does he know his bastard son is behaving like one, jealously turning the Father against his other son.
The only comedy in this play comes when the mad King crosses paths with the insane beggar, Poor Tom, who is actually Edgar in disguise. Edgar feigns madness to avoid being apprehended, based on Edmund's lies. Lear is quite taken with "Tom" and tells him he must have daughters because he is so miserable.
The loud thunderstorms, lightening, and the sound of pouring rain are very convincing as Lear is wandering about the wilderness. In the audience you could almost feel the chill and dampness.
As with most Shakespearean tragedies, there are horrors and the death toll mounts as the play draws to a close. Among the carnage, there is an unnerving scene, where Cornwall gouges out the eyes of Gloucester. This is very effectively and sickeningly staged.
Aficionados of Shakespeare's work will fully appreciate this production of King Lear. It is long and dark and draining, but worth it if you want to see superior Shakespeare in a world class theatre. Credit goes to Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino for this very discomforting but well-presented production of Lear.
King Lear continues in repertoire until October 10 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
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