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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

THEATER PREVIEW: King Lear offers new take on an old story

Published: February 11, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

If acting is the art of keeping the audience from coughing, then Eric Hills adaptation of King Lear is an excellent suppressant. Hills adaptation of Shakespeares roughly 400-year-old text reconciles 19th century tragedy with a contemporary dramatic sense.
I try to reach into Shakespeare and retrieve the heart of the play from its original historical setting, bring it forward to the immediate moment. I want the play to be breaking on the shore of the immediate moment of the experience in the theater, said Hill, the Barbara Sherman 54 and Malcolm L. Sherman Chair of Theater Arts.

Hills adaptation revolves around a man who, having been committed to a nursing home by his daughters, begins to have delusions of grandeur that he is the mythic King Lear. Lear, played by guest artist Michael Hammond, seamlessly interacts with both the reality of the nursing home staff, and the characters in his delusion.

In his alternate reality, Lear divides his land up among his daughters, asking only that they declare their love for him. Goneril and Regan, played by Shanessa Sweeney (GRAD) and Jessica Hansen (GRAD), shower the frail king with empty proclamations of their love for him.

However, Cordelia, Lears most beloved daughter, played by Angie Jepson (GRAD) who also plays Lears Fool, refuses to satisfy Lears ego with empty proclamations of love.

Infuriated at Cordelias rebelliousness in front of his court, Lear banishes her from his kingdom, dividing Cordelias parcel between her sisters and their husbands, The Duke of Cornwall, played by Sam Smith (GRAD) and The Duke of Albany, played by Nick Barry 08.

Two suitors, the King of France, Liz Helitzer 05, and the Duke of Burgundy, Jake Barnett 05, seek Cordelias hand in marriage. Without her dowry, Cordelia is rejected by Burgundy but accepted by France, who admires her decision to hold her peace. The Earl of Kent, played by Willie Teacher (GRAD), defends Cordelias actions but finds himself banished by a brash Lear.

Meanwhile Edmund, played by Diomedes Koufteros (GRAD), the illegitimate son of The Earl of Gloucester, Liz Terry (THA), plots to turn his father against his legitimate son, Edgar, Timothy Espinosa (GRAD). Edmund slowly works to usurp his own fathers power and lands.

Gonerils messenger Oswald, Cristi Miles (GRAD), finds himself in the middle of a power play between the two daughters, who attempt to consolidate the rest of Lears power.

Well timed moments with hospital staff played by Rebecca Kotlicky 06, Jimmy Blum 07, Melena Hessel 07, Alex Levine 08 and Abby Trott 08, remind the audience that the play is only a delusion of a very sick man.

Throughout the performance, music can be heard playing;

it drones on in minor keys as if a mantra of the themes presented in the play. As the characters move about on stage, their presence is echoed on the walls of the hospital in shadows, as if retelling the events as they unfold.

Among the most interesting aspects of the play is the way that characters change costumes from 19th century to modern depending on the events of the play.
Characters like Kent and Edgar disguise themselves in the melodrama and in our version their disguise consists of dressing up in modern clothes that are part of the medical facility that the old man is in, said Hill.

By the end of the play it should become clear to the audience that what was going on in the lay was happening in the modern world on one level all along and that the other parts of the play are hallucinations.

One way in which Hills production sets itself apart from other such versions of King Lear is through the stylized use of violence. Having Lears delusion as one large dream sequence, the violence appears more as a dance than a fight. The final gun battle between Edgar and Edmund is a example of graceful violence reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino.

As an audience member, I felt invested in each individual character, as the unity of the cast on stage is complete, as in one great machine. Admittedly I spent most of the performance leaning forward on my knees trying to get as close to the action as possible. Sweeney and Hansen offer delightfully sinister performances, while the trio of Hammond, Jepson, and Teacher has a powerful presence on stage. The intensity comes from Kent and Hammond, while Jepson provides comic relief from the dark themes with musical antics. Espinosa and Koufteros also bring a lot to the show with gallows humor and colorful performances.

The play rewards multiple viewings, with new understanding being granted each time, and is a must for any weekend plans. King Lear runs this Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, and next week with shows Thursday and Friday at 8 PM, Saturday 2 PM and 8 PM, and a Sunday Matinee at 2 PM. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 781-736-3400. Students receive discounts