That Art Most Rich
Theatre entertains, theatre empathizes. Theatre tells the story of the human condition, of lives that are not ours, of stories we would not have been able to hear about otherwise. I am used to theatre like this- to be whisked away, to have your belief suspended for two and a half hours, to hear lyrics handed down in this centuries old oral performance tradition. However, I am not used to feeling uncomfortable during plays. This definitely has more to do with the productions I choose to see rather than saying it’s a statement on what is available in Honolulu- I simply personally do not see enough dramatic pieces that grab you and keep you anxious on the edge of your seat and never let go for an entire act. The feeling is unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but definitely welcome; a perfect storm of direction, acting, design, and sound that taps into a place in our hearts and minds that we rarely venture forth into willingly. This storm is seething and crackling at The ARTS at Mark’s Garage, and it’s name is King Lear.
King Lear is one of William Shakespeare’s four great tragedies, and it definitely earns that title, deriving itself from the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological Pre-Roman Celtic King. King Lear unfolds the tale of the titular Lear as he moves into the final months (?) of his life. Not that he knows it- Lear is a king that hasn’t served the realm particularly well because of his own self interests. No longer wanting to hold himself to the duties of his crown, he has his daughters cushion him with flattery and praises in order to split up his realm between the three of them. Goneril and Regan, the two eldest daughters, successfully play his game and earn themselves one third of the realm to rule over. Cordelia, his youngest, does not play into this game and tells her father that she loves him by his bond, no more and no less. As they part ways, we begin to see Lear unravel in mind as his daughters (and their husbands) engage in a game of chess driven by greed, and stone by stone their dominion begins to fall, culminating in a fierce storm and a war that nobody wins. A tragedy, indeed.
The true tragedy lies in Lear’s arc, seeing him slowly descend into madness and only seeing the error of his ways far too late, thus having him lose everything he ever had. Richard Valasek as Lear demonstrates this fall with such finesse and technique that it makes you think the part was written for him, utilizing the language with a sharp accuracy and commanding a tall figure that demands presence when he is at his best and begs for pity during his lowest. A true marvel to watch onstage, he is accompanied by Lear’s Fool, played by Eden Lee Murray. Commanding an energy and commitment to physicality that rivals teenagers, Murray playfully and lyrically caters to Lear, working with the live musicians to sometimes deliver songs to the King. She exercises her energy beautifully, and like the half face painted on her she shows the human side to her Fool poignantly with melancholy as they are opposite faces on the same coin. Playing a game of chess (or of thrones, perhaps), Sharon Garcia Doyle and Katherine Aumer are wonderful to watch as Goneril and Regan. As they dance around each other, their husbands the Duke of Albany (Kirk A. Lapilio Jr) and the Duke of Cornwall (Paul Yau) have the choice to either join them or be left behind, and both Lapilio and Yau play their choices (and the consequences) well. The Earl of Gloucester, played by Shawn Forsythe, seems to meet a most tragic end as well, but he shows himself as the opposite of Lear, portrayed with clarity and direction and a fair moral hand, not even leaving behind Lear in the tempest as he is hunted down. His sons, Edgar (Brandon DiPaola) and bastard son Edmund (Ryan Bechard), also play key roles in this story, and both do not squander their time on stage, the former playing his own personal fall and redemption with grace and the latter joining Goneril and Regan in their game with a refreshing cunning, guile, and wit. Cordelia, played by Bronte Amoy, may have the least time onstage among the three daughters, but earns back the favor of Lear (and the audience) by having none of the frill and pomp her other sisters had; instead relying on being open, vulnerable, and trusting in her own moral compass to lead her well. Through being the most human of her sisters, Amoy commands an arc that by the end of the production is almost equally as tragic as Lear’s. The supporting cast and ensemble surrounding the aforementioned actors deserve applause as well- telling the story and propelling it forward, sometimes not as characters with lines but as the mysterious Shades, who play many utility roles (wind, an ominous presence, trees, and more) in the production with a wonderful dance-like wonder and an eerie quality with their silver cloaks and masks. The ensemble also helped with creating all of the sound off stage (which included a storm), fostering this beautiful sense of teamwork among the entirety of the cast.
Director R. Kevin Garcia Doyle has led a magnificent production. A sign of a modest and humble director, he points to his team for the wonderful elements that compose King Lear. Jonathan Sypert’s choreography and movement work with the cast was beautiful to watch, a breath of fresh air to sometimes balance the dire drama of it all, and to sometimes elevate it even higher. Sandra Finney’s costumes were delightful to see, having dynamic looks for each and every character and yet having them operate all in the same world is no easy feat, but she did it and the cast looks marvelous. Eric West’s scenic design and Cora Yamagata’s lighting go hand in hand, grounding the mood and setting appropriately to play in; a shout out goes directly to Yamagata for her lighting during the storm scene. Speaking of the storm scene, and all the sound that occurred offstage and onstage live, a big hand to Peggy Anne Siegmund, whose sound was a big part of the tension grabbing you by the stomach and not letting go for this play. Alongside her design were the onstage musicians were Karen Valasek and Katie Ranney, who was the percussionist. All together, the three took this play and made it an experience, as there is no substitution for real live sound. It is hard to do, and cannot always work depending on the space, but they did it, and it pays dividends.
I strongly urge you to see this play. The second play in the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival held at The ARTS at Mark’s Garage, it is “historical” drama done right. I found myself thinking how “Game of Thrones” King Lear is, but make no mistake, Shakespeare through Lear played the game first and it holds up very well. Running August 1, 2, 4, and 5, this is it’s final weekend with no show on Friday. Every performance is at 7:30pm, with Sunday running at 3:30pm. Tickets are available at hawaiishakes.org. The final installment of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival is Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, running from August 10-19, also at The ARTS at Mark’s Garage.