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Cast of two cleverly presents ‘King Lear’ as a puppet show

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — King Lear is the director of his own puppet show, obsessively playing out his loss of family, power, sanity and hope.

The Independent Eye theater ensemble has taken this metaphor literally. Its cast of two has transformed Shakespeare’s tale of the mad king with 30 hand and finger puppets. “King Lear” opens on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Cell Theatre.

“There wants to be kind of a single voice in the play,” director and star Conrad Bishop said. “It’s a repeated compulsion of Lear to tell his story. The Fool is the insult comic a lot of us carry inside us.”

His co-star, Elizabeth Fuller, doubles as both the Fool and the lighting director.

Lear is the ultimate control freak, determined to manipulate everything and everyone around him.

“The puppets are a way of expressing that repeated cycle as told by Lear in hell,” Bishop said.

“You know they aren’t real, but they sure as hell act real,” Fuller said. “It’s the obsession of telling the story. If you’re an abused kid, you find yourself telling the story over and over.”

The elderly king has decided to leave the throne by dividing the kingdom among his three daughters in exchange for care. But his scheme immediately dissolves. He declares the sibling who expresses the most love will win the largest share. His youngest and favorite daughter, Cordelia, refuses to comply.

“He is absolutely outraged that she doesn’t play the game,” Bishop said. “So he disowns her. He finds himself exiled completely out in the heath in a storm.

Nothing ends happily.

But the tragic conclusion sometimes provides a catharsis, Fuller said.

“There are usually a lot of wet cheeks afterwards, but they’re smiling,” she said.

The company has also produced “The Tempest,” “The Winter’s Tale” and “Macbeth.”