High-concept resettings of Shakespeare’s plays are often done and rarely done well, but the idea of a biker King Lear is so wonderfully outlandish, it just had to work.
Mixrun Productions’ King Lear is an abridged, 90-minute version of Shakespeare’s play set in a biker bar outside Dover (Delaware, that is). Lear is the “ king” of a motorcycle gang called “The Knights of Albion” who haunt Gloucester’s Inn and Tavern. The violence, insanity and turf wars in King Lear lend themselves nicely to this resetting, and director Kelli Biggs’ adaptation manages both to get Lear down to a Fringe-able length and to accommodate the modern setting and occasional cross gender casting of the production.
Some of the male characters in the play are played by female actors, and to great effect. The gender-blind casting of Kent, Edmund, Gloucester and Albany feels like an artistic choice rather than a reflection of the difficulty in finding male actors during Fringe season.
There are several absolute stand-out performances in this biker Lear: Michael Galizia as the bearded, mercurial, and often drunk king manages to be a terrifying and violent leader of a gang of social outcasts without making Lear a caricature; Galizia’s detailed and compelling performance allows his character to be imposing and dangerous, without being unsympathetic to the audience.
Katie Wanschura as the female Edmund also gives a stand-out performance: her Edmund is deliciously conniving, bitter and witty. Gloucester (Michelle Trout) and Kent (Lean Raulerson) are also outstanding; their grasp of both the text and the characters is much appreciated, as is their refusal to let the gender switch of the characters become at all gimmicky.
However, this production is not without its problems. With the exceptions of the actors mentioned above, the rest of the cast is only varying degrees of competent; some struggled with the text, either flubbing lines outright, or delivering them in the lilting style that comes from actors not understanding the meaning behind Shakespeare’s words.
I also had a problem with some of the more basic elements of the directions. The Apothecary is an odd space: a long, shallow stage with most of the seats at the front, with very small sections on either side. Biggs seems to have directed the show to accommodate a much more drastic thrust-style stage, and failed to correct for the performance space. I sat in the front section (as did most of the audience at the show I attended) and encountered more backting than in any other professional or semi-professional production I have ever seen.
But, in the end, King Lear is a great play, its best characters are played by a group of talented actors, and the concept (which, let’s be honest, could have gone terribly wrong) helps emphasize the important themes of the play without being boring, trite, or stupid.
I would highly recommend this production to anyone who is a big fan of King Lear, and to anyone who has been to a biker bar in Lower Delaware.
King Lear runs for 4 more performances at The Apothacary, 1013 7th St NW, Washington, DC.
Jessica rates this 3 out of 5
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