Lumina Studio Theatre packs LEAR with high-concept projections and mute scenes, but does best when they give their actors room to play.
Director/Assistant Director David Minton’s adaptation begins with a wordless scene wherein Lear (John O’Connor) trades a duck mask with a mysterious figure with a shopping cart to get a crown. This figure returns wearing the duck mask in one hallucination, before being replaced by a plague doctor psychopomp, who follows every on-stage death by laboriously raising the dead and escorting them off. These interruptions, dreamlike both in their strangeness and slow pace, ask very little of the cast and give less to the audience.
Projections are used throughout the play, to mixed effect. Sometimes they unobtrusively offer hints to the setting, like a storm cloud or the name “Gloucester” while at the duke’s castle. More obtrusive were the repetitive projections of cartoon faces screaming or ominously glaring in between some scenes, delaying the show.
All of this distracts from some gold in LEAR’s cast. The villainous couple Cornwall and Regan, played by Jordan Friend and Andrea Weeks respectively, steal the show with their graphic torture of Gloucester (Brian Monsell). Friend’s swagger gives Cornwall an effortless command of his subordinates, before it collapses into a rage like a wounded bull when challenged. Weeks brings a classic venom to Regan, lying in wait to strike. A moment of ruthless calculation before Regan helps her mortally-wounded husband off-stage is chilling, and a testament to Lumina Studio Theatre’s potential when acting is the focus.
John O’Connor’s titular Lear gains momentum over the course of the show. For a show so invested in eyes and blindness, John O’Connor rarely makes eye contact with his fellow actors, seeming disengaged from the action which fits in much smoother as the king goes mad and withdraws from reality.
His eldest daughter Goneril, (Kelly O’Connor), is far more present. Like her younger sister Regan, Goneril exudes privilege and cruelty, even when beaten to the ground by her husband, Albany (Brad Sperber). Kelly O’Connor also makes the most of this production’s 1980s setting, working Goneril’s wardrobe like it alone could kill. For almost every scene in the first act, costumers Dianne Dumais and Raina Greifer don her with a new outfit, demonstrating the royal family’s wealth and helping Goneril impress the audience with every entrance. When the show gives way to urban-fantasy glam-apocalypse, Dumais and Greifer can’t resist putting as much black leather and metal chain as possible on even the supporting cast.
The cast also finds moments of successful comedy. Before the violence breaks out, Monsell’s Gloucester is almost clownish, at one point chasing his bastard son Edmund (Ian Blackwell Rogers) around the stage in moment of physical comedy begging for Benny Hill’s Yakety Sax. Likewise, Rogers gives Edmund just the right amount of self-aware moustache-twirling villainy to delight the audience’s inner bastards.
Keith Anderson plays Gloucester’s legitimate son, Edgar. The role demands bold physicality and vocal range as Edgar embodies several false identities, which Anderson pulls off well. His climatic battle with Edmund is a high point in Jonathan E. Rubin’s fight choreography, to both Anderon’s credit and Rogers’s. Though, in an unfortunately edit, Edgar and Gloucester are denied their typical reunion; Anderson continues to put on a fake accent even as Edgar at long last calls Gloucester father again, keeping Anderson and Monsell from a golden opportunity.
Fans of King Lear will find a few diamonds in the rough in LEAR, despite the stops and starts as Minton experiments. Lumina Studio Theatre’s Theatre Group of Winter 2017 shows promise and will hopefully be a starting point for several skilled actors.
LEAR has two remaining performances, January 27 and January 28, 2017 at the Silver Spring Black Box, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD
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LEAR by William Shakespeare. Adapted and directed by David Minton. Performed by John O’Connor, Kelly O’Connor, Andrea Weeks, Molly Hickman, Ritchie Porter, Robert Wiser, Brian Monsell, Ian Blackwell Rogers, Keith Anderson, Bred Sperber, Jordan Friend, Mark Reiner, Michael Gelfeld, Mark Jefferson, Liz Porter, Andy Penn, Cassie Gabriel, Lilac Gordon, and Ian Fore. Costumes by Dianne Dumais and Raina Greifer. Set design and construction by Jim Porter. Video and sound by Ron Murphy. Props by Jeff Struewing. Lighting by Dylan Uremovich. Fight choreography by Jonathan E. Rubin. Music by Wendy Lanxner. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.