Review: King Lear at Actor’s Theatre

Barebones stage design meets actors of varying capability, and the meetup doesn’t go great.

Barebones stage design meets actors of varying capability, and the meetup doesn’t go great.

Photo courtesy of Actor’s Theatre

Showtimes: Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm. Through 10/7; $20; Actor’s Theatre at California Stage, 2509 R Street; (916) 501-6104;
Rated 3.0

This Actor’s Theatre production features veteran pro Ed Claudio in the title role, plus several actors familiar from other stages, like Laura Kaya from Capital Stage’s 2016 production, Love and Information, and Sara Rothaus from Davis Shakespeare Festival and Sacramento Theatre Company shows. Others have taken acting lessons in Claudio’s Actor’s Workshop program; some are experienced, others young novices.

Director Scott Divine patterns a “stripped down” version of this classic tragedy, implementing “just the words, the story and a happy band of actors working hard.” That’s accurate: The costumes are contemporary and uncomplicated (lots of black), the props are simple and the action roams across a spacious black box stage.

There are some casting adjustments: Shakespeare’s Edgar (often disguised as the lunatic Poor Tom) becomes Emma (Denver Skye Vaughn, STC’s Romeo and Juliet), while Oswald is played by Jenny Cox.

The role of Lear involves thunderous insults and denunciations (which Claudio handles convincingly) and pathetic scenes as the senile old king meanders, physically and mentally, as treachery and fate engulf character after character around him.

The show’s first half is uneven—some less experienced performers are learning the ropes. But portions of the second half are solid and strong, including the horrific scene in which loyal old Gloucester (Harry Stoner) is cruelly mutilated by the cold-hearted Cornwall (John Goodin) and Regan (Cattaryna Tekin).

Overall, this is a modestly mounted but artistically ambitious production, where you could say the cup is half-full or half-empty. Given that the performances are uniformly sincere (even if they aren’t always accomplished), that the cast and director connect with the dark nature of Shakespeare’s script and that the better scenes are genuinely tragic, I’ll rate this cup as somewhat more than half-full.