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BWW Review: I Got Drunk at A Noise Within's KING LEAR - Here's What Happened Next

There are some scholars who dedicate their whole lives to the study of Shakespeare. I am not one of those people. I got into theatre because I love big campy musicals. I actually regard George Reinblatt's Evil Dead: The Musical as one of the best artistic works in the history of theatre, slightly ahead of Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical. That being said, I still have mad respect for the Bard - the frilly-collar wearing dude who has managed to troll ninth graders for centuries beyond the grave.

Now, I'm no high school English teacher. But, if I were, I would advise my students that the best way to approach Shakespeare is to become inebriated before seeing a really great live production (which is part of the reason why I'm not a high school English teacher, but I digress). ENTER A Noise Within's production of King Lear.

Before you discount me, there's a method to my madness. King Lear was written around 411 years ago. Anyone who is halfway literate has read the play (or at least read the abridged SparkNotes version). Everyone is well versed on the story; nobody's expecting any surprises when they walk into the theatre. Like all presently produced Shakespearian productions, the magic isn't in the script, but rather the direction and design. While Shakespeare's bold and imaginative use of language is the force immortalized him all those years ago, it is the creativity of modern directors that keeps his heart pounding in 2017. Patrons return to the theatre time and time again not to re-experience the play that was written in 1606, but to see how modern directors interpret his work.

So, in my humble opinion, the best way to experience a familiar Shakespearian play is to get drunk and just let the amazing direction hit you, and wash over you, like an emotional wave. Forget the language, and be dazzled at the unconventional costumes; be in awe at the gritty makeup; become transfixed by the whimsical sets; and, stare directly into the high intensity LEDs and know art!

(Okay, I'm sort of obliged to admit I wasn't actually drunk when I saw the show. Just slightly buzzed off the few ten-dollar souvenir Sippy cups of wine I had. I swear.)

How Was A Noise Within's Production?

Short Answer: A Noise Within brought out the grit and horror in this familiar tragedy. If American Horror Story decided to do a season set in the time of ancient mythical English kings, you would get Julia Rodriguez-Elliott's King Lear. I highly recommend this eerie interpretation of one of Shakespeare's most produced works.

Longer Answer: A Noise Within's co-Artistic Director, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, directs this cold and dark interpretation of one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies. It was inspired after Rodriguez-Elliott witnessed a friend ravaged by dementia. She recalls, "One day, we showed up at the memory care facility in which she was living and found her naked, wearing a bed sheet like a cape, and crawling on the floor searching for flowers. I thought, 'My god this is Lear!' . . . We are still shaken by her final days, and the grief and anger behind those unsettling memories has been channeled into the production..."

Indeed, it is no stretch to suggest King Lear is suffering from Alzheimer's. The production subtly projects what appear to be deteriorating brain scans of Lear throughout the show (designed by Dave Mickey), which add to the very gritty (on the verge of gorish) production design.

Rodriguez-Elliott went with a fascist 1930's feeling that felt oddly timely. Check out a few of the photos:

Erika Soto as Cordelia.
Such awesome design.

I absolutely loved the design choices all around. The high point of the evening was the torture of Gloucester, which was absolutely cringe worthy (in a good way). Hats off to Makeup Designer Danielle Griffith; Scenic Designer Fred Kinney; Lighting Designer Ken Booth; Costume Designer Angela Balogh Calin; Props Master Dillon Nelson; Projection Designer Dave Mickey; and, Composer/Sound Designer Robert Oriol for bringing out the grit and horror so masterfully.

Kasey Mahaffy as Fool. As you can see
they went with a 1930's cabaret look.

The acting was second to none. Geoff Elliott (who is also co-Artistic Director of A Noise Within) commands the stage as a strong, yet so vulnerable, Lear. Freddy Douglas, who portrayed Edmund, was a standout of the evening. Douglas just oozes his own special brand of nerdy evil, in an almost comical way. Erika Soto played Cordelia with such a loyalty and authenticity that would slay even the most cynical person's emotions. Kasey Mahaffy portrayed the Fool with an entertaining and comical flamboyance that provided the little bit of light in the otherwise cold and dark production (the high school class sitting next to me absolutely loved him - especially when he made lewd gestures with his hands.) Trisha Miller and Arie Thompson played Goneril and Regan like total bosses in stilettos. The entire cast was fantastically talented; this was by far my favorite Lear cast hands down.

Who Should See It?

I highly recommend Julia Rodriguez-Elliot's King Lear to Shakespeare fans, both old and new. The gritty and timely production design coupled with an all-star cast makes this captivating work of art a must-see for all Los Angeles Shakespeare fans.

So go to A Noise Within, buy a ten dollar Sippy-cup of wine, and feast your eyes on this familiar, yet new, masterpiece.

How to See It

King Lear runs at A Noise Within through May 6th. Tickets can be purchased here, or by calling (626) 356-3100.

A Noise Within is located at 3352 E Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107.

More Pretty Pictures

Geoff Elliott as Lear and Erika Soto as Cordelia.
Spoiler alert!

Photo Credits: Craig Schwartz

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