Princeton Rep Co. has returned to Pettoranello Gardens for an al fresco production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” A natural woodland asset was the cicadas, desperate for rain, chirping throughout the performance. The roar added an atmospheric outdoor ambiance to the epic tragedy, but this “Lear” lacks weight and wonder, and the poetic peaks are severely harnessed.
The Lear of Richard Bourg is earnest but none too interesting. His monarch is little more than a vain, doddering old man, lacking in thunder. He is more an ill-tempered, foolish and testy curmudgeon, short of ferocity. Bourg shouts and grumbles to express emotion, with little variety in his delivery, and one fears his voice will give out before show’s end. He’s most effective in his late reconciliation with estranged daughter Cordelia, his searing howl of grief after her death appropriately numbing.
Alicia Goranson, best know as precocious teen daughter Becky on TV’s “Roseanne,” doubles as Cordelia and the Fool. She fares better as the loyal but misunderstood Cordelia. Her Fool, unfortunately, is crudely misconceived. Goranson never gets under the surface of the character, missing the pain and whimsy, the wit and compassion. An oddly uncomfortable image found her hopping about like Laughton’s Quasimodo. In more fanciful moments, she plucks a mandolin and sings her own songs in a futile attempt to avert Lear’s progressive signs of madness.
Other perfs run from confident and assured to indifferent and amateur. As Goneril, Faye Ann Lee is rather mechanical, falling short of the necessary chill. Nell Gwynn’s stately Regan is most effective. She’s icy, ruthless and maliciously focused. Gwynn also has a knowing command of the language.
Tom Biglin as Edgar, Gloucester’s worthy son, is quite good, and his swordplay (staged by Jason Weiss) with the treacherous Edmund (Eric Alperin) has a breathtaking edge.
The most telling performance is given by Burt Edwards as the Earl of Gloucester. He is every bit a figure of noble suffering, particularly in one of the Bard’s most chilling scenes, the blinding of Gloucester. Edwards’ turns it into a pitiable episode.
“Modern dress” shouldn’t mean visually dull, but the costume design by Frank Chavez did precious little to enhance the action and the mood. The physical production is sparse, with little scenery and fewer props, though the amphitheater makes an atmospheric and practical stage. The play was economically staged by the company’s artistic director, Victoria Liberatori, who kept the action fluid and well-paced. Liberatori also is credited with the pointed lighting design, which sharpened as the sun set. Only the storm scene fell short of fury and strength.