[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of Kingsmen Shakespeare Company’s production of “King Lear” by William Shakespeare, directed by Michael Arndt, starring Lane Davies, running through August 6.
Set in a dystopian land, the stage like some kind of faded crumbling mall, this Kingsmen version of “King Lear” gives the text an eery, brutal sense of foreboding from the outset. What could have been a sweeter beginning with a happy court, a benevolent father and his doting daughters is already full of darkness and sarcasm. And so, with revenge as the steady theme, this production and its battling players give us a landscape more akin to “Mad Max” than ancient England. But it works…
It’s a cheerless choice, but then this is Shakespeare’s deepest tragedy. There are no winners, the play is the war of the ages. A benevolent but aging society gives way to the young and as soon as it does so, the young destroys them. Like the babies eating their mothers. And yet the result of all this horror is still a complete mess and their new world is lost entirely. It’s a pretty dim view of humanity honestly, and all too familiar given the present state of our world.
Kingsmen Park is such a beautiful place to see Shakespeare. With its tall trees and bubbling brook, as the hot summer air cools off and the night falls, the stage seems to float in the darkness. A ship of fools perhaps. But these actors are all fighters, not fools, in this rather excellent production. Except perhaps the actual fool himself of course. The action is non stop, with little time for romance, or repentance. Of course, as Lear falls apart he does a good deal of self examination, but I’ve always felt that was based in fear. Fear of death, fear of irrelevance, fear of a loss of legacy, fear of losing his mind. But there’s a realness to that don’t you think? No need to twist in some romantic revelation. He’s an old man dissolving in front of us, as soon as he hands off his crown he begins to evaporate.
Everyone in this play is absolutely brilliant. Each role is given the same level of thoughtfulness, each actor forming their particular characters piece of the puzzle with eminence and rigor. There are so many truly wonderful parts in the play, not only Lear of course, but these two horrible daughters – spiteful, mean, manipulative. Cordelia is the third and the sweetest by far and the most pure, but she’s gone for most of the play and so we are treated to a parade of nasty and it’s all wonderfully done. And the treacherous Edmond…vile, cute, but vile!
There are some heroes too, all played with honor and a very real heaviness, a doomed love for their king. It’s a bit like watching a ship being boarded by pirates while it’s crashing onto the rocks. There’s a hopelessness to the action…a real tragedy to all. And there’s poetry to that.
Lane Davies is Lear. As he gives in to his frailties we see the strength leaving him, the bones becoming brittle and his mind diminishes. It’s a wonderfully wrought performance. Proud and pompous at first, then confused and heartbroken. As he tries to reason his way through his daughters’ betrayal, resisting at first the obvious rebukes, he must face it all in the end. The final insult breaks him, body and spirit and he wanders sadly, bewildered by his rapid fall…it’s both terrifying and wonderful to watch and Lane Davies gives a spectacular performance as this sad and bedraggled king.
If you have a fondness for Shakespeare’s tragedies then this is the perfect one for you. “King Lear’ doesn’t get performed nearly as often as it should, so take this opportunity and see this truly wonderful version of what many scholars say is the finest of Shakespeare’s tragedies and Percy Bysshe Shelley insisted was “the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world.”
I highly recommend The Kingsmen’s “King Lear.” It plays for two more weekends, so fight the heat, Thousand Oaks is a little cooler than The Valley!! This closes the festival for this year and it’s a lovely way to go!
Running through August 6
Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm
California Lutheran Univerity
60 W Olsen Rd #7800, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360