Powered by Google
Editors' Picks
Arts + Books
Rec Room
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Adult Personals
Adult Classifieds
- - - - - - - - - - - -
FNX Radio
Band Guide
MassWeb Printing
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise With Us
Work For Us
RSS Feeds
- - - - - - - - - - - -

sponsored links
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sex Toys - Adult  DVDs - Sexy  Lingerie

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Parent traps
King Lear at ASP; Theater District at SpeakEasy

As King Lear, 80-year-old Alvin Epstein proves himself the little engine that could. Diminutive but spry, beneath a flying spray of white hair, Epstein is a cocky, muscular Lear full of scathing fury (watch him try to tamp it down) that turns tyrannical or teary and finally quite dotty, as the little old king trots the fields near Dover in a baggy diaper. Having played the Fool to Orson Welles’s 1956 king and Gloucester to F. Murray Abraham’s at American Repertory Theatre, the always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride Epstein finally takes the veil and shows he’s (in the Bard’s words) "worth the whistle." Moreover, he has moments — as when he forces Jennie Israel’s substantial Goneril to the ground with the force of his curse or when, recognizing Cordelia, he violently lurches himself forward to kneel at her feet — that startle.

Patrick Swanson is at the helm of the Actors’ Shakespeare Project production (at BU College of Fine Arts’ Studio 102 through October 23), which is not only long (three and a half hours) but also long on ideas. Among these notions, more interesting than outlandish, is that Lear is, in the beginning, a generous dad who is thoroughly enjoying the game of passing out his kingdom like party favors to those who deliver appropriately loving encomiums. Here, following a daringly long scene in which the court nervously awaits its temperamental monarch, Epstein, having followed his coronet down a stately stair, skittles back and forth between the throne, where he listens brightly to his elder daughters’ recitations of devotion, and a large map exposed by the rolling up of an Oriental rug, where he ceremoniously marks out divisions before delivering little deeds done up in ribbon. The guy likes his pomp, to be sure, but he’s not unloving. And, making a joke of his unburdened "crawl toward death," he clearly has no idea he’s giving away all. This Lear will continue, until exiled to the heath to lose both his mind and his ability to negotiate, wheedling and whittling at the illusion of his daughters’ affection.

Another audacious conception is that loyal servant Kent, who is banished in the first scene, then returns in disguise as his sovereign’s protector, be presented, in the expert Allyn Burrows, as an antic as well as steadfast character who quite enjoys his (French) camouflage. And though Lear (who may be referring to Cordelia) lists his "fool" as "hanged," I’ll even buy Swanson’s variation on why the saucy truth teller represented by Ken Cheeseman in a baseball cap emblazoned "Fool" checks out in act three. Certainly this superimposition on the script brings home the danger in Lear’s madness, making of him something of a geriatric Hamlet, fatally misfiring through the arras.

Actors’ Shakespeare Project, the brainchild of ART veteran Benjamin Evett and manned by a capable contingent of Boston actors, got off to a propitious start last season, offering a trio of productions that emphasized text over gimmick and gimcrack. This continues in a Lear in which everyone understands what he or she is saying and delivers the words with clarity as well as the requisite thunder, corrosiveness, or pathos. And speaking of thunder: in keeping with ASP’s commitment to text over trumpery, the stormy cacophony upon the heath and later the metallic sound of a battle at Dover (through which blinded Gloucester staggers dazed) are rendered by an R2-D2-ish overhead contraption that includes a couple of clanging garbage cans.

With just one season under its belt, ASP shows a lot of moxie opening its second with the Bard’s monumental, some would say unscalable tragedy — even given the return-of-the-king presence of Epstein, an esteemed performer whose career landmarks include the American premieres of Waiting for Godot and Endgame, and who barely missed a beat when he left ART for New York, drawing acclaim in Tuesdays with Morrie and, for his Nagg in Endgame, a New York Times paean to the poetry of his Marcel Marceau-trained hands. Thankfully, the ASP production, if firmer at the studied beginning than at the wind-racked and bloody middle, is a solid accomplishment. It also introduces to the general public an atmospheric playing space at BU’s College of Fine Arts replete with staircase and stone fireplace, its floor carpeted in David Gammons’s production design by soil-evoking wood chips.

With Lear’s harsh discovery of "unaccommodated man" and Gloucester’s fatalistic assertion that "as flies to wanton boys, are we to th’ gods, They kill us for their sport," Lear is Shakespeare’s bleakest, most existential work. ASP finds humor amid the bleakness while acknowledging the play’s merciless modernity. Evett, in particular, presents an ironic, self-reflexive Edmund, Gloucester’s treacherous son, to whose flamboyant persona he also brings a sheepish sexuality. Israel is a formidable Goneril, whereas Paula Langton couches Regan’s negotiation with her father in an ameliorative softness that makes her later bloodthirstiness more shocking. Colin Lane is a soldierlike Gloucester, who proves as rash a judge of his progeny as Lear. Sarah Newhouse’s Cordelia is not without shrewish gumption when departing her unctuous siblings. With Lear, though, she is all terse tenderness, and the pair’s reunion brought tears to my eyes, as it always does in this cruelest and most heartbreaking of family dramas.

It would be unfair to expect Richard Kramer’s Theater District to be more than a hillock next to the mountain that is Lear. But the sharply written, tenderhearted comedy, being given its East Coast premiere by SpeakEasy Stage Company (at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion through October 29), extends the concept of family beyond what was dreamt of in Shakespeare’s philosophy. And Wes Savick’s production, which features NYPD Blue actor Bill Brochtrup, a minimalist set by Jenna McFarland, and multimedia trimmings by Erin Turner, is arty enough to avoid the whiff of TV movie that otherwise might emit from a writer best known for his contributions to thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, and the PBS series based on Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

Brochtrup plays actor-turned-chic-eatery-operator George, who lives with lawyer Kenny. Kenny’s 15-year-old son, Wesley, has recently left the abode of his driven book-editor mom and ophthalmologist stepfather to come live with Kenny and George above the restaurant, which is smack in the middle of Manhattan’s theater district — prime turf for showbiz jokes and a thematic motif that evokes the 1959 flick The Nun’s Story. Though Kenny is too busy shepherding the cause of every gay organization in the city to spend much time with Wesley, George proves the most able of the bright, confused kid’s co-parents — until a loaded question (Is sexual orientation a choice?) followed by a gay-bashing forces prejudices well buried beneath a liberal urban veneer to the surface.

Though the restaurant bits are redolent of Fully Committed, Kramer’s one-liners are clever and copious, yet don’t get in the way of his well-meaning characters. To call the 80-minute play (which comes without commercials!) merely entertaining would be to sell it short, given the subtext, and it’s deepened by the suggestive projections and the sensitive performances by Brochtrup and the Elijah Wood-ish Edward Tournier as Wesley. The play’s Achilles’ heel is its rendering of remote, issue-dodging if cause-supporting Kenny, who, at least in Liam Torres’s alternately wooden and explosive rendering, seems unworthy of either George’s or Wesley’s devotion. There are, however, deft performances by Melinda Lopez as Wesley’s literary groupie of a mom, Barlow Adamson as her calming spouse, and Neil A. Casey as the fuming maitre d’ who has known George since their days as nags in Equus. The jokes are amusing if glib, but it’s the life embrace that lifts Theater District out of television district.

Issue Date: October 7 - 13, 2005
Back to the Theater table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  advertising info |  Webmaster |  work for us
Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group