The production of “King Lear” at the Electric Lodge is not merely the tale of a man who first grew old and then finally, tragically, wise. Under the thoughtful direction of Patsy Rodenburg, it is the story of the dissolution of a family: two fathers, three sisters, two half-brothers and a handful of treacherous in-laws. The absence of mothers in this bloody family album is perhaps significant. Rodenburg’s traverse staging creates a literal house divided as the audience is seated on either side of the playing area, offering dramatic intimacy and immediacy. This stark presentation — there is no set save a few movable chairs and boxes — focuses on the power of performance, and the brilliant cast brings this play to vibrant, painful life.
“Lear,” distilled down to its essence, is the cautionary tale of two old men — one who mistrusts the wrong daughter and one who mistrusts the wrong son — and how, through a series of awful trials, one of them regains his sanity and the other finds his nobility. Robert Mandan is an exemplary Lear, “he (who) has ever but slenderly known himself,” perfectly etching the transformation of an arrogant monarch into an impotent elder, of a man gone mad from grief into a fond, doting father. Mandan’s command of the text and clarity of delivery is impressive, and he does Shakespeare’s glorious words justice.
Lawrence Pressman is outstanding as the unfortunate Gloucester, beginning as a peevish noble and ending as a noble father. His is perhaps the most moving perf in the production, with his delivery of the “as flies to wanton boys” speech particularly affecting.
Omar Metwally brings a fine naturalistic take to the honorable Edgar, but Patrick Muldoon never quite convinces as the scheming Edmund. Jayne Brook and Tyne Rafaeli excel as the “unnatural hags” Goneril and Regan, both bringing a cold and ultimately violent politesse to bear, yet Mili Avital doesn’t connect as Cordelia.
Diane Venora expertly plays the Fool as a philosopher/vaudevillian, baggy pants and all, nailing and making clear jokes that now are somewhat murky, but she also conveys the character’s anger and desperation well.
Timothy V. Murphy makes a darkly intense Kent in a both vocally and physically powerful perf that stuns with its impact.
Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting effectively creates settings, yet Joe Dzuban’s sound design is unsatisfying and occasionally just odd: The storm scene could have used more thunder to go with its frequent lightning flashes, and the sound effect used to imply a battle sequence sounds more like a UFO landing.
Danielle Morrow’s costume design is expert and adds volumes to the show, delineating character arcs visibly as Lear descends from a sharp-suited CEO to a doddering senior in soiled pajamas or Regan ascends from a dutiful daughter in a dress to a devious diva in tight trousers and a leather jacket.