Theater review: ‘King Lear’ at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory

Abigail Funk (The Fool) and David Yezzi (King Lear) in “King Lear” at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. Photograph by Matthew Peterson.

Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is currently performed at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory and is conducted by Marshall B. Garrett. This is an unusual production as it is presented in the original Elizabethan dialect or Original pronunciation (OP). This is the reopening of this indoor theater, and interestingly, Shakespeare is believed to have written “King Lear” during quarantine in London during a plague epidemic.

Some believe that “King Lear” is Shakespeare’s most perfect tragedy. Unlike egocentric Hamlet or jealous Othello, Lear’s only flaw is his age. He can no longer clearly judge the motives of his three daughters. Lear is easily guided by praise, but it’s obvious from Cordelia’s feelings towards her father that this has happened recently. If this is the case, Lear can no longer be held responsible for his actions. Like many people with dementia, he has moments of clarity, but it can be seen that there is a problem with his mental capacities. As a result, everything that happens to him and his daughters is truly tragic.

… A great production… A perfect way to get back to the theater, this BSF production should be on your calendar.

“King Lear” has so many facets to its plots that it has been one of the most read and studied of Shakespeare’s works. Keats wrote a poem about it titled “Sit down to reread King Lear.” Kurosawa’s 1985 film adaptation “Ran” is set in feudal Japan, but the themes are the same.

The scene at the BSF alone is worth the price of admission. Tom Brown’s masterpiece recreated an eerie feeling as you are sitting at the Globe in London in the 17th century. It allows for a continuous flow of action which helps keep the pace of the game from being strenuous. Fittingly, Brown has a role in this production as Kent / Old Man.

In the title role, David Yezzi is quite powerful as he goes from the strong, energetic leader at the start of the play to the mad, emaciated old man in later scenes.

Abigail Funk embodies both Cordelia with a pure heart and The Fool who accompanies Lear in his decline. Many researchers believe The Fool was always meant to be played by the actor who plays Cordelia, as the two are never on stage at the same time. They believe Shakespeare was telling the director that The Fool was actually Cordelia in disguise, trying to stay close to her failing father. Funk’s portrayal of both the loving girl and the insightful fool shows her wide variety as an actress.

The eyebrow is also listed as playing a dual role. Again, it’s even more obvious to the audience that the old man is also Kent in disguise taking care of his beloved king. Brown handles the dual role well and creates two characters that audiences can admire and respect: he’s heroic and smart.

The disguises were commonly used by Shakespeare, and he uses them three times in this play. Jeff Miller is Edgar, the rightful son of the Earl of Gloucester (Greta Boeringer Schoenberg). He also poses as a madman with whom Lear and his small group of exiles befriended. When Gloucester is blinded, Edmund, as a madman, comes to his aid. Miller brings out feelings of sympathy and admiration through his performance.

Edmund, sometimes referred to as Edmund the Bastard, is played by Rocky Nunzio. Nunzio creates a charming but deceptive Edmund whose jealousy of his half-brother’s status leads him down a dangerous road. His duel scene with Edgar is perfectly staged and one of the highlights of the production.

Schoenberg does well as Gloucester in a cross-cast. She is excellent as a blind Gloucester whose life is now hopeless.

Cordelia’s two jealous sisters who conspire against not only their brother and father, but their spouses and against each other, are finely played by Erin Hanratty as Goneril and Nina Marti as Regan. Both help turn their characters into loathsome villains.

The cast is well rounded off with Colin Riley as Albany / Curan, Zach Brewster-Geisz as Cornwall / Doctor, Marnie Kanarek as Oswald / Burgundy / Servant.

Garrett’s direction highlights the many themes of “King Lear” – jealousy, true fatherly love, the way society treats the elderly, the way we treat those who are not mentally competent, the corruption of the power, treatment of illegitimate children, etc.

The costume designer is not listed in the program, but the costumes are a wonderful artistic creation of Elizabethan clothing, from hats to shoes.

Jamie Horrell is both musical director / multi-instrumentalist. The play begins with a few songs, and the songs are placed between several scenes to allow for breaks in the bathroom or a chance to stretch your legs as there is no intermission. Several of the songs actually serve as comic relief when the plot gets very intense. Jess Behar is the original pronunciation director and Tegan Williams is the fight choreographer.

The only minor issue is that when the thunderstorm breaks, the sound effects drown out several of the actor’s lines. Maybe they could tone it up for future performances.

If you’ve never seen “King Lear”, this is a good introduction. For those like me who would see it again, this is a most interesting version, and you won’t be disappointed. A perfect way to get back to the theater, this BSF production should be on your schedule.

Duration: 2 hours and 35 minutes without intermission.

Advisory: Not for very young children due to violence.

“King Lear” runs through October 24, 2021 at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at the Kestrel of the Great Hall Theater. It is located inside the St. Mary’s Community Center, a historic old church, 3900 Roland Avenue, Baltimore. MD 21211. For tickets, go to this link. For more information on the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, visit their website.

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