The first review is IN! Holly Johnson of The Oregonian says LEAR is “a distilled, richly appointed dynamo of a play, a roiling emotional ride…” and “a tight, intense story…move over ‘August: Osage County!” and “the cast is sharp, the actors play off one another naturally…” and “strikes home with clarity and pathos…” Congratulations, LEAR cast and crew!
‘Lear’ at Bag&Baggage focuses on family in an intense, emotional adaptation (review)
on March 08, 2014 at 1:17 PM, updated March 09, 2014 at 9:46 AM
In Palmer’s work, which has its North American premiere in this production that he directs, the focus is on family, and the cast is just five characters. Lear (played by the marvelous Kevin Connell), a king of early Britain, his three daughters, the dissembling Regan and Goneril (Jessi Walters and Rebecca Ridenour) and his beloved Cordelia (Stephanie Leppert), and Perillus (Benjamin Farmer), featured in the original sources, who is Lear’s foster-son and the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Kent, play out the story wherein an aging king goes mad, and two daughters try to secure his kingdom with disastrous results. This makes the story more intimate, as the political themes are dropped. The story of a great leader destroyed by age and madness and the impact this has on his children, creates a tight, intense story. Move over, “August Osage County.”
The visual trappings help the high drama of the piece, as does the very tall stage at the Venetian Theatre, which adds a sort of epic grandeur. In Megan Wilkerson’s set design, large swatches of semi-transparent fabric, ragged and looking chewed upon by the hounds of hell, create layers and space for entrances, and they take to washes of light quite brilliantly, in particular red for a bloody scene. Enlarged images of girl toddlers and smiling babies are projected on the cloth, and they evoke much. The setting is pre-Christian England, and there’s a Celtic fantasy quality to some of the costumes. Goneril and Regan are voluptuous harpies, and costumer Melissa Heller makes them look powerful, with layers of cloaks, flowing robes, fur jackets with high shoulders, and wide gleaming belts that hide daggers.
The cast is sharp, and the actors play off one another naturally and economically. Connell’s Lear in a highly physical performance is fierce, tender and occasionally funny as he grasps onto a sanity that is slipping away: His lyrical lines, some of Shakespeare’s best, come at the end. Leppert’s Cordelia is sweet yet strong, a radiant light in a dark world. Ridenour shines in a scene where she invokes the spirit of her dead mother, and Walters is darkly potent as the evil Regan, working her scenes with Ridenour to a fever pitch. And Farmer gives a very special performance as Perillus, delivering some of the most unforgettable lines in the piece.
What: “Lear,” an adaptation by Scott Palmer
When: Through March 23
Where: The Venetian Theater, 253 E. Main St., Hillsboro