King Lear

Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs

The inexorable intermarriage of cinematic with theatrical technique is healthy—usually. In the Aulis Collective's nicely-staged production of "King Lear," for example, actor Ralph Waite (of "The Waltons") brings a wellspring-deep, well-conceived humanity to the troubled, aged monarch, allowing the audience a rare window into Lear's regrets, madness, and despair—all emotions playable on the tube or the stage. Also in "King Lear" is a pretty, melodic, scintillating, yet ultimately distracting original score by Carl Schimmel that—despite its best efforts to serve as a dramatic buttressing to the action, like a film's underscore—forces the actors to compete with the music.

Played live by Schimmel on piano, Meighan Stoops on clarinet, Robert Burkhart on cello, and often abetted by Beth Griffith's gifted, haunting soprano, the music-vs.-dialogue problem is only one unclear aspect of "Lear." Another is how Aulis' mission statement—"examining how power violates children and the societal repercussions of this violation"—squares with Waite's introspective portrayal of a King caught adrift by the rising tides of a lost personal sea. Directed by Bernice Rohret, the production looks good, and, at three hours, actually moves quickly enough. A dollop of gender bending in the casting, however, adds yet another series of theatrical concepts to be digested and understood.

For example, consider the palpable performance of Mary Jane Wells as the Earl of Gloucester—one full of pathos—compared to Narily Blair's reserved Cordelia, and the lesbian undertow of Suzanne Savoy's Edmund. Whither the styles? To put it bluntly, I found myself yearning for a fluidity and cohesion to the ensemble acting that seemed to be a low priority here. With such a good Lear heading the cast, seeing this production's true potential stifled at half-bubble under the surface is tragedy in itself.

The cast also includes Julie Campbell, Shirley Roeca, Joe Hickey, Gregory Ivan Smith, Samuel Frederick Reynolds, Todd Weldon, Kathryn Graybill, David Logan Rankin, Suzanne Savoy, Ashton Crosby, and Christine Spain-Savage.