Madness. Power. Jealousy. Love. Betrayal. Greed. Violence. Shakespeare's King Lear delivers the best and worst of human nature in a little less than three hours. The Guthrie's current production showcases the quick and dangerous tumble in store for those that rely on the gossip of the greedy, and how tragic a fall awaits those who mistake flattery for love.
Lear is a shared role between Stephen Yoakam and Nathaniel Fuller, with the skilled Guthrie veterans tackling the role on alternate performances. I had the pleasure of attending the show when Yoakam manned the king's descent into madness and he delivered an expert turn of what has always seemed to me to be one of Shakespeare's trickier roles. It's difficult to make that tenuous line of perpetrator/victim credible. Lear roams the stage in the early scenes as a villain, proud and powerful. Yoakam handles his descent into infirmity and heartbreak with care, allowing the audience the opportunity to recognize the ease with which we all may walk that line under the right circumstances.
Orchestrating that fall are the jealousies of Goneril and Regan, Lear's two eldest daughters played deftly by Kate Nowlin and Sun Mee Chomet. Wielding their own weapons, sensual and literal, each fights for power with a viciousness and intellect matching the greediest of men onstage. These are not sympathetic characters, but there's a great truth there. The potential for power is equal for men and women in Lear; the pursuit differs, but the calculation and passion behind that pursuit is well-matched. Nowlin especially paces the stage vibrating with barely controlled rage, and her scheming pulses with a sensual heat. These women will use every tool in their arsenal to claim the power they seek.
Surrounding this truly dysfunctional family is a tribe of genuine supporters and calculating manipulators. Jason Rojas and Thomas Brazzle play their roles of Edgar and Edmund, respectively, as perfect foils. Brazzle oozes bitterness and his snark provides some of the quickest laughs of the show. We all recognize that bitterness and Brazzle brings it home with ease. His conniving plots are tragically matched in naive earnestness by Rojas's Edgar, who descends (literally) into madness before emerging as his father's and Lear's attempted savior. Lear is a tragedy that works because it highlights the goodness surrounding the evil. We're always saddest to see the potential for rescue even as we witness our protagonist fail to recognize the need of that rescue.
For all my love for this production of Lear, I would also like to comment that the poster/artwork reminds me of Beeker from the Muppets. So I'll end this post with that levity:
Catch King Lear on the Wurtele Thrust through April 2nd. Get your tickets here.