King and fool, rage and redemption6/15/2016
Could King Lear be showing the Christmas spirit? The aging monarch presides over a tragedy — possibly Shakespeare’s greatest. By play’s end, the bodies onstage include Lear’s three daughters, and among them is the one he betrayed, Cordelia. Yet during a late rehearsal on the patio at Salisbury House, Lear showed up for the first scene grinning like Santa.
Richard Maynard, as Lear, made you think of his recent job as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” At the end of that story, Scrooge has the Christmas spirit, his cheeks popping. You could swear Lear had it, too.
But Maynard knew what he was doing. Midway through the first scene in which the king demands his daughters flatter him and Cordelia fails to deliver, his rage shocked us all the more.
Suddenly grim-faced, he grabbed the girl by the hair and flung her across the stones. He snarled that he’d leave his daughter with “nothing.”
Katy Merriman, playing Cordelia, gaped up at him, so shaken that it didn’t seem entirely an act.
With that, Shakespeare kicks things into a dizzying downward spiral.
“Lear’s kingdom is a house of cards,” Maynard says. “It all comes tumbling down just because he doesn’t get a bit of sweet talk.”
The most powerful man in the place, the actor points out, proves himself “awfully insecure.”
Brad Dell, the director, agrees.
“People in this play get to the essence of their humanity,” he says. “The best of them go through terrible things, but by doing that they learn the true nature of love.”
So the tragedy makes room for lighter moments. Lear’s Fool figures in most of these, and Edward Barker puts this Joker across with fine, loose-limbed snark. He even gives the king a gentle head-butt, calling him “Nuncle.”
So, too, Thomas Gill, as Edmund, works up such nasty charisma as he schemes to usurp the throne that he recalls Pacino as Scarface. Gill looks like a terrific addition to the company, especially in his exchanges with the veteran Tom Geraty. The good-hearted father proves no match for his brooding “whoreson.”
Before long, the machinations of good versus evil result in one of Shakespeare’s most eye-popping scenes. Lear, helpless and half-naked, stumbles around in a storm, raving. Sound and lighting effects have been arranged, of course, but more than that, the Salisbury House setting appears perfect.
Mark Gruber, who plays the Duke of Albany, admits he “had doubts about making drama like this work outside.” But by the end of the first rehearsal on the lawn and patio and seeing the entire troupe in action, he admitted: “No longer.”
Throughout, director Dell kept moving as well. He made sure that conflicts and connections stood out clearly, whether viewers sat close by or camped on the slopes the players call “blanket beach.” The area offers Edmund plenty of room to lurk — and for Lear to find his way, as Dell says, “back to the light.”
Overheard In The Lobby: Community theaters in both Newton and Ankeny have children’s shows continuing. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.