There’s nowhere to run from this senile tyrant. Redtwist Theatre, one of Edgewater’s staple end table-sized storefronts, has always devoted itself to intimate dramas. But most of those have been in the genre of twentieth-century realism. Now, to close their fifteenth season, the company is producing its first Shakespeare. It’s a project they’re well-prepared for, having recruited veteran Goodman producer Steve Scott to helm this claustrophobic production. With nearly as many people onstage as in the audience, scenic elements are minimal and conflict is inevitable.
Where People are Measured by Their Use
Lear (Brian Parry) sardonically declares that he is ready to “crawl toward death.” It gets a guffaw from his sycophantic courtiers, but they really are ready for him to be gone. When he prompts his daughters Goneril (Jacqueline Grandt) and Regan (KC Karen Hill) to sing his praises, they do so in self-consciously declarative fashion, while his youngest daughter, Cordelia (Kayla Raele Holder) condemns herself by bluntly telling him she feels no more for him than it is normal for daughters to feel for their fathers. He banishes her and all those who take her side, and his elder daughters, though pleased to get Cordelia’s share, fret that their father could turn on them just as easily and has no plans to truly relinquish his privileges. The two women haven’t become monster yet; that comes later.
Two figures dominate this production. One is that of Lear, played by Brian Parry with a regal but scrappy air. This is an aged warrior king; one who is emotionally attached to his massive retinue of knights specifically, as opposed to philosophers, bureaucrats, entertainers, or any other remnants of his time as king. (Lear needs only one fool.) He reacts to being deprived of them as an elderly parent would to being deprived of anything core to their sense of identity. Sharing his tendency to view other people as his own limbs is the production’s other domineering force, Goneril, played by another Redtwist mainstay, Jacqueline Grandt. Audience members may clearly see every twinge in her face as her father abuses her appearance in the most vile language possible, while she loses respect not only for him, but for her ineffectual husband who looks on confusedly. The next time they denounce her, she cannot care enough about them to be hurt.
A Time of Shifting Alliances
The audience is seated alley-style, and Steve Scott includes both sides in the action. He also makes the crowdedness of the production into one of its great strengths, in this writer’s view. What comes through clearly in this staging is how much the people in authority depend on and are influenced by the nominal social inferiors who vastly outnumber them. The first image of the play is the Duke of Gloucester (Darren Jones) deriding his bastard son, Edmund (Mark West), who is required to stand silently at attention waiting to be called into service. People familiar with the play know how easily Edmund is able to reshape reality around him through misdirection that he praises as “excellent foppery.” West’s interpretation of that is a sing-songy mendacity that depends on the target’s willingness to be fooled and that Edmund inherited from his father, a charming old flatterer. The earnest-to-a-fault Earl of Kent (Cameron Feagin) recognizes in the oily servant Oswald (Devon Nimerfroh) one of the most dangerous personages onstage; by delivering messages at the time of his choosing, Oswald has the ability to limit other character’s options in their struggles for power. This is the Shakespeare play in which an unnamed servant rebels against his master in an outrageous display of deadly defiance, yet here it appears the most natural thing in the world.
Redtwist Theatre Sucks Us into Lear’s Vortex
Costume designer Elle Erickson makes much of her opportunities to put just a slight twist on each character, in this writer’s view. There’s something vaguely sleazy in the Duke of Cornwall (Scott Buechler), implied to be Regan’s mentor in cruelty. The attire of the Fool (Liz Cloud) is quite sensible, albeit quirky. She tends to soft-pedal her criticism of her master but is no more successful for it. And Lear’s degeneration is shocking despite being expected. Edmund’s doofus good-hearted brother, Edgar (Robert Hunter Bry) disguises himself as a madman and laughably overdoes it; Lear’s actual madness has the look of something different in character.
This play has a reputation for grandness and was one Redtwist’s founders waited to perform until their last season before handing the company off beginning next fall. But Scott’s King Lear is personal and often funny. There’s no room for lines to get lost in or for the many characters to become confused. Lear and Gloucester must be in steep mental decline to be fooled by Kent and Edgar’s disguised voices, and the play does sag under its complex plotting late in the game. But this is a production that delivers on Redtwist’s intimacy and contains a bevy of insights into a classic text while being perfectly suited to the moment.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Play contains nudity, flashes, and loud noises.
Robert Hunter Bry (Edgar), Scott Buechler (Cornwall), Liz Cloud (Fool), Megan Delay (u/s Regan, Cordelia), Cameron Feagin (Kent), Alexander Ferguson (Ensemble, u/s France, Oswald), Jacqueline Grandt (Goneril), Cindy Henkin (u/s Goneril, Kent), James Hesla (Albany), KC Karen Hill (Regan), Kayla Raelle Holder (Cordelia), Darren Jones (Gloucester), Lewis R. Jones (Ensemble, u/s Fool, Gloucester, Albany), Sean William Kelly (Burgundy), Chris Khoshaba (Ensemble, u/s Edgar, Edmund, Burgundy), David Lovejoy (France), Devon Nimerfroh (Oswald), Brian Parry (Lear), Mark West (Edmund)
William Shakespeare (playwright), Steve Scott (Director), Lauren Katz (Assistant Director/Dramaturg), Seph Mozes (Assistant Director/Dramaturg), Zachary Crewse (Stage Manager), Alyssa Mohn (Assistant Production Manager), Nicholas Schwartz (Set Designer/Production Manager), Cat Davis (Lighting Designer), Blake Cordell (Sound Designer), Elle Erickson (Costume Designer), Steven Abbott (Scenic Charge), Ari Craven (Graphic Designer), Jan Ellen Graves (Marketing), Paulette Hicks (Text Coach), Ian Maryfield (Fight/Intimacy Director), Julia Skeggs (Casting Director), Evan Sposato (Technical Director), E. Malcolm Martinez (Box Office Manager), Johnny Garcia (Box Office Associate), Michael Colucci (Producer)
1044 W Bryn Mawr Ave, Chicago
Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm
Sun 3:00 pm
Through August 4
Running time is two hours fifty minutes with one intermission.
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
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