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LEAR'S DAUGHTERS

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e interesting thing about this 1987 prequel to King Lear, written by Elaine Feinstein with the Women's Theatre Group in London, isn't its conception of how three little princesses became the women portrayed in Shakespeare's play: cruel and avaricious Regan and Goneril, and honest and loyal Cordelia. Any parenting magazine or psychotherapist will tell you that if you've got two monsters and a doormat for children, it's probably your own fault. From there the notion of something inappropriate between Lear and his girls isn't a big leap, and there are suggestions of it in Shakespeare's text. (Jane Smiley explored the same territory more compellingly, I'd argue, in her 1991 novel A Thousand Acres). What is interesting about the play is its theatrical potential—its weaving of memory, hearsay, and third- and first-person narrative to create a murky but captivating Lear family history. Unfortunately director PJ Hammond's unevenly acted production lacks the depth and imagination to bring that history to life. The production's most notable shortfall involves the lower-class characters, who benefit most from the play's reversed hierarchies. In the vision of the prequel, not only do the daughters' stories eclipse Lear's, the servants become the authors of the royal family record. As the central narrative voice, the genderless Fool sets the scenes, places emphasis wherever he/she sees fit, jokes derisively, and even voices—and, of course, comments on—King and Queen Lear. While the role should be scene-stealing, Beth Fisher plays one smirkingly sarcastic note almost throughout the production, except for her refreshingly simple moments as the infirm Queen. In a play that relies so much on strong storytelling, Fisher's delivery is more off-putting than engaging. Another storyteller who fails to draw us in is the daughters' Nurse as played by Nancy Peterson. Though the play endows the Nurse with as much or more power than the Fool—she is the keeper, and reviser, of all the family lore—much of this power is lost in a performance that is indistinct and often barely audible. As for the daughters, each has memorable moments, but overall they suffer from Hammond's failure to unify the acting styles. Teresa Huang's Cordelia and Stephanie Thorpe's Goneril feel exaggerated, one actor playing at girlhood, the other at rage. Sylvia Keays gives the production's most nuanced and enticing performance as middle child Regan, whose passionate struggle for self-discovery is stunted by the necessity to abort her illegitimate child. Here Regan is a budding sculptor, and one of her unfinished pieces happens to be the centerpiece of Scott Butler's artful set. A female form emerging from a tree trunk, it tells a story of half-realized beauty turned monstrous. "Lear's Daughters," presented by Counter Productions and Theatre Planners at the Complex Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Aug. 21-Sept. 13. $10. (310) 289-4460. MEDEA, QUEEN OF COLCHESTER at St. Cecilia's Playhouse Reviewed by Charlene Baldridge A more peculiar Medea was never seen than Medea, Queen of Colchester, co-helmed by Kirsten Brandt and David Tierney. But for the casting, the staging quirks that make it so quirky could have made it great. To its credit the production never stoops to camp. The concept is cool: Playwright Marianne McDonald's Medea is a "Cape-Coloured" transvestite from Colchester, just outside Cape Town, South Africa. Euripides' gruesome tragedy of revenge becomes part glam rock musical and part exquisite pantomime. Medea, who entertains at the Parthenon, a large Las Vegas casino, fled South Africa in peril of her life and fell in love with a small-time hood, James Elliot. She is mothering and raising his two children. All was fine until casino owner Michael Creon decided James was the man to wed his daughter Athena and become heir to his gambling empire. James and Michael insist their actions are for Medea and the children's good. Not buying, Medea decides to murder the little boys and kill Creon and Athena using African black arts learned from the sangomas—shades of Jim Magnuson's African Medea. George Alphonso Walker is Medea. His program bio divulges little, but a web search reveals he is a visual artist and designer who now lives San Diego. Causing worry on scenic designer Mathilda de Luce's staircase, Walker tromps about in platform shoes, blonde wig, and glittery dresses. This hardly a Medea makes. Medea's words and thoughts are largely conveyed by Jessa Watson and Kim Strassburger, a superb Greek chorus of two called the Medea Divas. Chris Hatcher benignly portrays Nick, Medea's gofer (in Euripides, the children's tutor). Warren G. Nolan Jr. is the knockout diva of the evening as Medea's friend Nuria, also a transvestite. He nearly imbues the drama with truth and pathos and beautifully croons Jean-Claude Rideau's Africa-tinged music. Sadly, Nolan's mic seems best suited for singing, making his initial delivery of the backstory difficult to hear. Rideau also designed the sound. Robert MacAulay is appropriately stiff and slimy as James. Ruff Yeager is imposing as Creon. Greg Tankersley portrays Medea's former lover, pressed for asylum. Michael Cullen and Kevin Kopmann-Gue portray the doomed children. David Lee Cuthbert is the lighting designer, Mary Larson the costume designer. One suspects the pantomime was imposed because of Walker's limited emotional range. It's a grand concept that could have worked. "Medea, Queen of Colchester," presented by Sledgehammer Theatre at St. Cecilia's Playhouse, 1620 Sixth Ave., Downtown San Diego in repertory. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (Sun. 2 p.m. Sept. 21, Oct. 5 & 12). Aug. 24-Oct. 12. $18-20. (619) 544-148

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