AISLE SAY San Francisco


by William Shakespeare
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Starring Anthony Heald
Bruns Memorial Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Director Amanda Dehnert comes to California Shakespeare Festival's production of William Shakespeare's "King Lear" with some impressive credentials.

They include the memorable "My Fair Lady," "Into the Woods" and "Julius Caesar" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in recent years, but she has far less success with "King Lear."

Considered one of the Bard's greatest tragedies, "Lear" tells of the impetuous elderly king who decides to retire and divide his kingdom among his three daughters, spurns his youngest daughter after she refuses to wax eloquent with love for him and thus begins a descent into humiliation and madness.

For the most part, Anthony Heald travels Lear's downward path with a carefully nuanced performance. He has some strong support from Aldo Billingslea as his loyal adviser, Kent; and from Charles Shaw Robinson as the Earl of Gloucester, who undergoes trials somewhat paralleling Lear's.

One of Dehnert's biggest missteps is to use the same actor, Kjerstine Rose Anderson, to play both Cordelia, Lear's youngest daughter; and Lear's Fool, who accompanies him on his journey onto the stormy heath and madness. Moreover, she sometimes wears short, frilly skirts that detract from Cordelia's dignity and the Fool's compassionate wisdom.

Design elements also are problematic, especially Christopher Akerlind's lighting, which features large spotlights that are moved about the stage and that sometimes shine directly into the audience's eyes, interfering with their view.

Likewise, Daniel Ostling's set places much of the first-act action in and around a tall, dreary metal cage whose walls are opened and closed by stagehands. The more minimal set in the second act works better.

Dehnert has pared the script down to about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, making for some abrupt changes that aren't always adequately introduced.

Most of the other actors in the 11-member cast are commendable, including Arwen Anderson as Goneril, Lear's scheming eldest daughter; Sam Misner as her more virtuous husband, the Duke of Albany; and Craig Marker as the Duke of Cornwall, husband to Lear's middle daughter, Regan, an ineffective El Beh.

Dan Clegg is gleefully evil as Gloucester's younger, bastard son, Edmund; while Rafael Jordan is easily duped as Gloucester's older son, Edgar, who assumes the role of the madman Tom of Bedlam after Edmund's false warnings of threats to his life.

Except for Cordelia/the Fool's costumes and Lear's on the heath, Melissa Torchia's costume are in line with the mostly black color scheme of the set. The sound and composition are by Joshua Horvath. Dave Maier choreographed the action-filled fight scenes.

"King Lear" has been produced far more successfully by Cal Shakes, most recently in 2007 under the direction of Lisa Peterson and in 1999 under the direction of Denis Arndt.

This one isn't up to those standards.

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