BWW Reviews: Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Presents KING LEAR at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica

By: Nov. 06, 2014
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KING LEAR is often regarded as one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, especially for older actors who dream of playing the title role. The play's action centers on an aging king who decides to divvy up his kingdom between his three daughters (Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia) in order to avoid any conflict after his death. Early retirement and the division of the kingdom turn out to be a big mistake as Lear's actions end up destroying his family, tearing apart the kingdom, and leaving just about everyone dead by the play's end.

Two years after wowing audiences with their production of Hamlet, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre presents KING LEAR at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica for thirteen performances, November 5-16. Directed by Bill Buckhurst, the production stars Joseph Marcell, he of the resoundingly deep voice who appeared alongside Will Smith as Geoffrey on TV's "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." In 2011, Marcell also appeared in the Globe's production of "Much Ado About Nothing."

Eight very versatile actors take on 17 roles, delivering a very creative and intense presentation in the setting of an Elizabethan style booth stage, inspired by paintings and etchings made during Shakespeare's time when touring was prevalent. The double level set is composed of open spaces where costumes and props are stored and ready for quick changes, with actors donning a different vest or hat to change characters. This led to one very comical exchange when handsome Daniel Pirrie played both Edmund and Oswald in the same scene simply by adding a hat and running to the opposite side of the stage to deliver his lines. For audience members not familiar with all the characters, the program notes certainly will assist in any confusion on which characters are being presented by the same actors in the various scenes.

Before the play begins, the actors walk among the audience, chatting with people as themselves rather than their characters. There are also many times during the play when characters, especially King Lear, speak directly to the audience for assistance in figuring things out. To mimic the outdoor atmosphere of the Globe, the audience remains in low light throughout the play, allowing the actors to see us as well. Thus an atmosphere of friendly interaction is set from the beginning and continues throughout the play. There are also many musical interludes featuring the cast playing the accordion, flute, trombone, tambourine, drums, and several other assorted instruments.

The several intertwined stories about characters motivated by the seven deadly sins and shocking scenes of excessive cruelty and suffering (especially the violent blinding of Gloucester, Lear's descent into madness, the raging storm, and the tragic death of Cordelia), make KING LEAR a profound exploration of the human condition in all its extremes and complexities. And when well performed by actors who fully comprehend the psyche of their character as well as the meaning of Shakespeare's vocabulary, brilliance happens.

Family dynamics are put to the test when Lear (Joseph Morcell) decides to divide his kingdom between his two elest daughters, Goneril (Gwendolen Chatfield) and Regan (Shanaya Rafaat), disowning his loving daughter, Cordelia (Bethan Cullinane), who refuses to play the game of "who loves Daddy more." Lear sets in motion the tragic events that follow with Goneril and Regan betraying him by throwing him out into a raging storm before proceeding to fight one another over Edmund (Daniel Pirrie), the bastard son of Gloucester (John Stahl) who is trying to disinherit his legitimate brother Edgar (Alex Mugnaioni). Lear becomes homeless and wanders through a bitter storm, accompanied by his loyal but disguised Earl of Kent (Bill Nash), his truth-speaking Fool (Bethan Cullinane), and Edgar, disguised as the half naked and dirty Poor Tom.

After Gloucester is wrongly accused of being a traitor and blinded, all hell breaks loose when romantic liaisons come to light, splitting sisters and brothers, resulting in the deaths of most of the play's major characters.

Thanks to the brilliant and at times comical interventions of the company actors, much humor is mimed from scenes in which the Fool appears, thanks to Bethan Cullinane's performance. And although not a true comic character, Poor Tom as played by half naked Alex Mugnaioni incites chuckles as he darts around the set or hides in corners shivering. Adding in some ribald humor via song, Joseph Morcell's Lear appears in his white undergarments, quite off his rocker by then.

"In jest, there is truth."-William Shakespeare, King Lear

Certainly one of the staging highlights of this production of KING LEAR is the storm sequence with Lear raging against his inability to control the weather as well as his daughters. With all the actors dressed in earth tones of browns, olive green, burnt orange, and white, the storm is represented by a bright red curtain which is drawn across the set and waved in all directions by the cast behind it as well as Lear in front of it. Several times the audience is also allowed to see how the thunder claps are created when the curtain flies up in the "wind." Along with the many musical interludes which lighten the mood of the tragedy, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre troupe has done the Bard proud.

There are 13 performances of KING LEAR at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, located at 1310 11th St. in Santa Monica CA 90401 through November 16, Tues-Sat at 7:30pm, with 2pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Audiences are invited to stay late on Nov. 7 and Nov. 11 for a post-show Q&A with cast members, moderated by Broad Stage Dramaturg Jonathan Redding. Tickets are $53-$98 and may be purchased online at or by calling the Box Office at 310.434.3200. Please note the show runs approximately 3 hours including one intermission.


Shakespeare's Globe has become one of the most popular visitor destinations in the UK, at the heart of the regeneration of London's Bankside. Shakespeare's Globe is a charity and continues to operate without annual government funding.

Under the leadership of Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole, the theatre season plays in repertory from April to October annually, and has gained an international reputation for performance excellence. Globe Education, directed by Patrick Spottiswoode, is one of the largest arts education departments in the country, and shares its approaches to the teaching of Shakespeare with over 100,000 students a year. Shakespeare's Globe Tour and Exhibition is open all year round and is the world's only permanent exhibition dedicated to Shakespeare's theatrical career.

Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz!

Daniel Pirrie, Bill Nash, Shanaya Rafaat, Alex Mugnaioni, Bethan Cullinane, Joseph Marcell, John Stahl

Joseph Marcell


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