When kings cry
Sitting in a coffee shop after watching Nevada Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear, my husband and I had much to talk about. The coffee was a special brew, as dark and bitter as our shared mood.
“There is so much sadness,” he said, and I agreed, finding examples everywhere. Sorrow is so universal, a constant undercurrent of the human condition, yet when it strikes us personally we always feel alone.
Such is the power of King Lear, arguably Shakespeare’s most heart-wrenching tragedy. The play is incredibly powerful, reminding us that an undeniable part of humanity is suffering the loss of the people or things you love.
King Lear tells the story of the title character dividing his kingdom among his three daughters. When he asks his daughters to profess their feelings for him, his elder daughters Gonoril and Regan wax poetic about their overwhelming adoration.
Meanwhile, his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to play the game and offends her father. Lear banishes Cordelia and heaps favor and property on the other two. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Gonoril and Regan are greedy and deceitful, and their speeches were just power plays. As he laments the banishment of Cordelia, his only loving daughter, Lear descends into madness.
Judging by looks alone, Nevada Shakespeare Company’s interpretation of King Lear is minimalist and comic. The set consists of four ladders, painted with cheerful, brightly colored floral designs. Four actors wearing overalls play the entire cast of characters, and they don red clown noses and silly-looking disguises for certain scenes. Despite their silly costumes, the actors play their lines straight.
Roderick Dexter is absolutely amazing as King Lear. As he loses control of his mind, Lear’s emotions run wild. Dexter flits between anger, despair, joy and confusion, often within the same soliloquy. A common pitfall of amateur Shakespeare productions is allowing the formality of the language to subdue the emotions of the dialogue. Dexter not only avoids this trapping, he delivers his lines with such passion that their meaning is unmistakable.
He is backed by a strong supporting cast, all of whom play multiple characters. Jeanmarie Simpson shows her range by portraying both the evil Gonoril and Lear’s gentle physician with equal aplomb.
Cameron Crain gives a solid performance as Kent, a loyal lord who is banished by Lear but returns disguised as a servant. Crain’s portrayal of Regan is competent, but, despite Shakespearean tradition, it was distracting to see a male actor in this role, even one wearing a feminine headdress.
Seventeen-year-old Anna Mosher effectively captures Cordelia’s good nature, and although her performance is somewhat overshadowed by her senior cast mates, she is talented beyond her years.
NSC’s King Lear is a worthy adaptation of Shakespeare’s great tragedy. With its pared-down script, the play is a palatable 90 minutes, and the simplicity of the production lets the beauty of the language shine through. You may leave the theater a bit melancholy, but such is life.