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BWW Reviews: Southwest Shakespeare's KING LEAR Reigns with Relevance ~ Searing and Steely Performances Command the Stage

Sometimes, you need to enter unfamiliar surroundings to better comprehend the what and why of your quotidian reality. The ancient England of King Lear is as good a place as any to reflect on the evil that men ~ and, indeed, women ~ do in their lust for power and the horrific consequences of their hybris and deceits.

By setting Shakespeare's epic drama in the bowels of 20th Century civil strife (Sarajevo), Jared Sakren, Southwest Shakespeare Company's Producing Artistic Director, reminds us of the play's continued relevance ~ the incendiary nature of ego-driven (and, yes, sibling) rivalry, the perils of balkanization, and the irreversible toll of war on our humanity. Even madness is no antidote or prophylactic against the penetration of such demonic forces into our carefully constructed lives.

Sakren's depth of intellect informs this powerful interpretation of King Lear. Combining Kimb Williamson's set, the costumes of Adriana Diaz, and Daniel Davisson's lighting, he has created the perfect stark mood for the storming antics of the play's protagonists. Above all, he has assembled and directed a powerhouse cast that, in turn, infuses their characters with depth and wit.

When the aging Lear (John Hutton) prepares to divide his kingdom among his daughters, he plays a risky game by asking each who loves him the most. Regan (Emily Mohoney) and Goneril (Jordan Letson), like devious Venuses in fur, schmooze the old man with hyperbolic assertions of dedication. Cordelia (Allison Sell), fittingly dressed in white, her nature being pure, can offer, in contrast to her duplicitous sisters, only a righteous truth: "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love your majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less." Lear's response is devastating, unleashing the storm from which tragedy ensues.

Deceit doesn't belong only to the Lear Family. The Earl of Gloucester (Harold Dixon) is blind (figuratively and, ultimately, literally) to the ruses of his bastard son, Edmund (Ross Hellwig), to discredit good son Edgar (William Wilson).

In all their roles, the actors excel ~ for example, Mr. Hellwig, convincingly roguish; Mr. Wilson, utterly compelling in his own version of madness; Ms. Sell, ably doing double duty as Cordelia and Fool.

But, it is Mr. Hutton whose masterful and controlled portrayal of the King commands the stage. His presence and countenance, whether roaring at injustice or feigning madness or drowning in regret, make for a memorable Lear.

King Lear, not to be missed, continues its run at the Mesa Arts Center through January 31st.

Photo credit to Mark Gluckman

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