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Review: King Lear by William Shakespeare (August 13)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Of William Shakespeare’s great tragedies, “King Lear” is in many ways the most challenging. For the reader/audience, the complex double plot is often hard to follow; moreover, none of Shakespeare’s plays have a bleaker universe or end more desolately. 

For the director, the play has a large cast with each role being demanding, and at least three scenes (Lear raging on the heath, the blinding of Gloucester, and Gloucester’s plunge at Dover) that are almost impossible to stage believably. And for the actors, the play’s poetry is dense and the view of human life brutal and painful. Yet many also believe “Lear” is Shakespeare’s best play.

Albuquerque High School drama teacher Ralph Adkins has accepted the challenges of directing “King Lear” at the Adobe Theater. His production is, inevitably, uneven. Here is a brief plot summary. Elderly Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters and their spouses, and he foolishly banishes his youngest. In a parallel plot, Gloucester is manipulated by his bastard son into believing his lawful son his enemy. Both Lear and Gloucester undergo terrible suffering before they realize their mistakes. Both are reunited with their loving offspring, but the play ends in despair with the innocent dying with the guilty.

The Adobe stage setting is simple but serviceable—a Stonehenge-like arrangement of two large standing stones and lintel between four stone stairs and a low stone ramp. The costumes are belted robes with large sleeves and decoration suiting rank. Ron Elguera designed the costumes and plays a creditable King Lear. Elguera warms to the monumental role and is effective and affective in Lear’s madness. His counterpart, Gloucester, is played by Ernest W. Sturdevant who takes longer to find comfort in his role. After Gloucester’s blinding, Sturdevant wears a bloodied bandage over his character’s bleeding eyes, and his acting is stronger. Tim O’Hearn as Kent, however, is never comfortable with his character’s verse. Director Adkins also cast former and present students. Nicolette Brown is touching as Cordelia, and Owen Callis has a strong voice but the wrong body to play Edgar. Both are UNM students. I enjoyed Aynn Kirby and especially Elizabeth Warden as wicked daughters Goneril and Regan. Young Darrick Penny plays villainous Edmund with bravado. Laura Brunette is the youngest and prettiest Fool I have ever seen. Ray Rey Griego seems too youthful and docile to play the viciously cruel husband of Regan, while Scott Bing looks too sinister for the kindly husband of Goneril.

The company is well prepared, but this “King Lear” has only flashes of power and insight; the unevenness of the cast cannot sustain those moments. I still applaud their efforts. “King Lear” plays at the Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth NW on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through September 2. $12 general public, $10 seniors and students. Call 898-9222 for ticket information.