ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Paul Ford leads a strong cast under the direction of David Richard Jones in a modern, accessible, and profound "King Lear" at the Vortex Theatre. The production is a theatrical treasure. Lear is perhaps the most difficult of William Shakespeares plays to stage.
It tells the story of two fathers, King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester, who misjudge their children and pay an awful price for their own lack of understanding. Proud and foolish Lear is annealed in the cauldron of madness in the plays powerful central scenes; though he regains his sanity and his virtuous daughter Cordelia, he keeps neither for long. Gloucester is blindedfiguratively by his bastard son Edmund and then literally. The distraught father is saved from despair and suicide by his loving son Edgar, but their reunion is also brief. The plot is untidy, but the human suffering is always in focus. In Lear the universe is, at best, indifferent to human misery, yet love illuminates the darknessif only for fleeting moments. Director Jones costumes his cast in modern dress and encourages a naturalistic acting style. Lacking are exaggerated postures or gestures often associated with performing the Bard. As a result, the complex play is available to the audience. Lear becomes our contemporary.
Lori Stewart and Megan Bode play Lears evil daughters with intensity, although their shouts are sometimes shrill. William Lang and Preston Mendenhall give nuanced performances as their husbands. As Cordelia, Amelia Teicher begins the play with awkward arm and hand positions, but she is more natural later in her performance. Jeff Andersen is coldly calculating as evil Edmund, and John Byrom is good in the more difficult role of Edgar, who disguises himself as a near-naked Bedlam beggar. John Wylie does fine as Lears loyal nobleman the Earl of Kent, who removes his beard and adds a cap and accent to serve the king as Caius. Accomplished Charles Fisher adds Gloucester to his list of memorable portrayals. Both his paternal warmth and anger are strongly evident, and he is wonderful in the scenes of his blinding and his encounter with the mad King.
Alan Ware is nothing short of sensational as Lears Fool. Ware calls upon his experience as a featured circus clown to bring life and meaning to the fools every line. He mugs, sings, dances, plays the concertina, does impersonations, and threatens to steal the show. I now understand why Shakespeare omitted the entertaining fool from the sinister latter half of the play (though he is present at the end of this production). Ware is the best fool I have ever seen.
It is Paul Ford who earns the highest accolades. His portrayal of King Lear is intelligent even as it is heartbreaking. There is no more demanding role in Shakespeare, and Ford has made it his own. One moment he is touching in his affection for his fool, and the next he is frightening as he curses with sterility one or another of his daughters. And each word is clear and comprehensible. Paul Ford is every inch a king.
King Lear by William Shakespeare plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 6 p.m. through April 27 at The Vortex Theatre, 2004½ Central, SE. $12. Reservations 247-8600.