by PAIGE BEAMAN
King Lear at the Guthrie Theater is a captivating and heart-breaking portrayal of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Accented with standout acting and exquisite 1920s/30s costume design, the play takes us on a beautiful yet painful journey of a father‘s relationship with his daughters. While the epic fight scenes were a delight, Stephen Yoakam’s haunting depiction of the deterioration of Lear’s mind was the real star. The early 20th century setting elegantly reflected the timelessness of The Bard’s storytelling; however, it should be noted that due to acoustics and staging it was sometimes hard to hear the dialogue. This was frustrating for a diehard Shakespeare fan.
The story takes place in Britain where, after years of successful rule, an aged King Lear decides to relinquish his crown and divide his kingdom among his three daughters. He declares the largest share will go to the one who loves him most and gives each a chance to proclaim their affections. Goneril (Kate Nowlin) and Regan (Sun Mee Chomet) flatter their father, but Cordelia (Kim Wong), Lear’s favorite, explains she loves him “according to their bond” and no more. Infuriated, he disinherits Cordelia and divides the kingdom between Goneril and Regan. Cordelia is banished and leaves to marry the King of France while Lear decides he will split his time residing with each of his remaining daughters. When Lear realizes their true nature, his sanity begins to crumble and the result is truly tragic.
The acting chops of the players were varied, with some performances greatly outshining others. Besides Yoakam’s boisterous yet gut wrenchingly fragile performance, Sun Mee Chomet was cunning and clever as Regan. I particularly enjoyed her gasp-worthy ruthlessness in the second act. Guthrie alum J.C. Cutler as Kent and Armin Shimerman as “The Fool” delivered dynamic and believable pros that were a joy to behold. Thomas Brazzle was powerful as Edmund, but at times overplayed. I did like the interactions between Brazzle and Jason Rojas, whose complex and sometimes humorous interpretation of Edgar lingered in my mind days later. Jennifer Moeller’s costumes, especially those worn by Goneril and Regan, were strikingly beautiful and provided extra insight into the characters’ psyches. They also added some richness to the bleak landscape of the set, which gave an ever present feeling of gloom.
King Lear by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Haj. Scenic Designer Marion Williams, Costume Designer Jennifer Moeller, Fight Director Casey Kaleba, Lighting Designer Jennifer Tipton, Sound Designer Darron L. West. Now through April 2 on the Wurtele Thrust stage at the Guthrie Theater, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis. Tickets at the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224, toll free 877.44.STAGE, 612.225.6244 (Group Sales) and online at http://www.guthrietheater.org.