nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
July 9, 2006
I attended the Boomerang Theatre Company's outdoor production of King Lear knowing only some basic plot points, that Lear disowns the daughter who refuses to flatter him, and rewards the duplicitous, flattering daughters who later betray him. It made for a good test of the troupe's ability to convey this classic play: a somewhat risky move, as it turned out. Before addressing the performances in this mostly well-done production, I must address two issues which hindered my enjoyment: the practical issue of performing in a busy city park, and the thematic issue of how we treat the elderly.
Rain cancelled the mid-June performance I intended to see in Manhattan's Riverside Park. The early July show that I saw in Brooklyn's Prospect Park competed with a birthday party nearby and planes flying overhead." I can hear the distant drumming…" an actor says, as a live rock band several yards away drums on. With such distractions in a vulnerable setting, the actors need to project more forcibly and gesture more deliberately. Slower speech would help the audience deal with the dual handicaps of archaic language and outside interference.
Also, in 21st-century America, unquestioned loyalty and deference to rulers and parents is neither automatic nor desirable. From my personal experience, I identified with Princess Goneril's exasperation over a parent who would curse his child to high heaven over the slightest insult; I'd want to throw him out, too. Wasn't she supposed to be one of the bad guys, and what did that say about me? (Later, reading an updated version of the text, I learned that Goneril had deliberately provoked her father; I couldn't hear that speech in this production.) Would Shakespeare today have given Goneril and Regan a "break," or have we postmodern folks fallen way short of our filial duties? I have to credit the show for stirring up these issues.
Philip Emeott directs a quick-paced King Lear, scenes nearly overlapping, with no scenery except the trees and their low-hanging branches. The noblemen wear three-piece suits and the women sleeveless gowns, all sporting medallions, and Lear's attendants wear green raincoats. Bill Fairbairn's excellent Lear, King of Britain, carries both the nobility and foolishness of the character. Zack Calhoon is most entertaining as the scheming, charming Edmund, who plots to steal his brother's inheritance, that is, their father's title and possessions. As the three daughters, Sara Thigpen is compelling and forceful as Goneril, the pretty Kate Sandberg is effective as Regan, and Beth Ann Leone is a surprisingly angry Cordelia.
David Sitler, dressed as a country bumpkin, is funny as Caius (aka the Earl of Kent), as is Benjamin Ellis Fine as Lear's Fool.
Although the major characters are mainly clearcut, I was confused over the dually-cast actors and the disguised characters. I wondered who Oswald was. When the blond, bespectacled actor who plays the King of France reappears, I first thought the King of France had returned. I didn't realize that the country hayseed was the banished Kent in disguise. The Boomerang actors and their director could sharpen the distinctions among their minor performers.
Nevertheless, this mostly-good King Lear has made me curious about other Shakespearean and classical plays performed outdoors in less-than-ideal conditions. Shakespeare in the Park(ing) Lot, anyone?