Saturday, September 29, 2007

Two Extremes of Passion, Joy and Grief

Flatwater’s production of King Lear continues to develop, deepen, and explore the riches of this haunting play.

The characters and their interactions have grown more subtle, more daring, more playful, and more vulnerable.

King Lear is, in many ways, Shakespeare’s most modern play. In response, Flatwater’s actors have revealed its anticipation of Samuel Beckett’s bleak but rich tragicomedies (noted by Polish scholar Jan Kott decades ago) and even of Harold Pinter’s sardonic family portraits (which is strange given Pinter’s reliance on subtext and silence – not Shakespeare’s approach at all).

George Hansen’s Gloucester is frightening in his epic struggle to face the brutal absurdities of existence and to sustain hope for something better. No wonder that in time his "flawed heart" can take no more.

Stephen Gaines’s Lear is frightening in his sudden and fierce anger toward each of his daughters in turn. He gains (sorry!) impressive strengths – in charm, candor, insight – as he accepts his diminished powers as aging human being and as a spent political figure.

Dick Nielsen’s Fool makes it impossible for me ever to accept again the notion of that several of Shakespeare’s clowns are unavoidably "unfunny" for present-day audiences.

And their achievements are matched by the rest of the ensemble.

Last night’s audience practically suffered whiplash in shifting from hilarity to heartbreak, from hope to despair – and were profoundly moved as they stayed with the cast and the play.

Invaluable helps in establishing, changing, and negotiating mood are provided by Janice Stauffer’s regal costumes, Annie Aspengren’s poignant music (especially her underscoring of some crucial scenes), and Dave Owens’s assertive and convincing fight choreography.

Flatwater’s King Lear closes Sunday, June 30. For tickets, call 484-7640.

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