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The Tragedy of King Lear

the essence of drama is conflict, then this drama of a king driven mad by his own folly fulfills its parameters. Not only is there one determining conflict, there are several, all simmering at the same time, and evil and good are punished equally in this bloody history. The pre-historical tale has something to offend every known or unknown concept of morality or acceptable human intercourse. For those who might not know the plot: When the degenerating Lear (James Gammon) tires of the demands of his sovereign powers, he decides to gift his daughters--Gonerill (Elizabeth Huffman) and her husband, Albany (Jake Eberle); Regan (Allison Gammon) and her husband, Cornwall (Robert Tobin); and Cordelia (Saige Thompson)--with portions of his kingdom, sized according to the depth of their declared love for him. Cordelia, her father's favorite, is the only one who cannot consider her love for him in terms of the wealth it will bring her. Blinded by the flattery of his elder daughters, Lear denies his patrimony to Cordelia and banishes her from the kingdom, thereby opening up a hive of anger, betrayal, and murder. Concurrently, Edmund (David Agranov), the bastard son of Gloucester (William Burns), plots to have his legitimate half-brother, Edgar (James Tupper), disinherited by his father. The runoff from these conflicts includes treachery, madness, and death--a sufficiency, maybe an oversupply, of most of the elements that signify a Shakespearean tragedy. Director Bruce Katzman attacks the play manfully but can't overcome that this is a long, wordy play, even for a Shakespeare aficionado, nor can he solve all its problems. Sometimes he loses the big picture; the un-named extras--gentlemen, attendants, etc.--seem awkward and superfluous; the climactic, final view of Lear's dead face is obscured by someone's arm; an offstage battle is laugh-inducing. Most noticeably, the actors are often in awe of the language, which begets stiff performances. Gammon is a courageous Lear, but in the most towering moments he fails to tower, and his diction suffers in the higher ranges of his anger, so the emotion is powerful but the poetry is lost. The staging, on Victoria Profitt's simply draped set, well lighted by Kathi O'Donohue, puts much of the action upstage, where (particularly female) voices get lost, so we feel little of the heinous obscenity of the elder daughters' behavior. Shakespeare's characters, whom we find in most of his plays, tend to be types, and several of the actors allow themselves to play into that, rather than against it. King Lear doesn't lend itself to easy interpretation, even though the subject matter, minus the barbarism of its theatrics, is that of a contemporary play, dealing with a highly dysfunctional family, sibling rivalry, love, betrayal, and death, on a scale that has proved virtually unmanageable since its first production in 1606--and unfortunately still i

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