King Lear Review - A Modern Take On A Classic Treasure

Ross Leham and Larry Yando

Snippets of Frank Sinatra, his voice gaunt, disjointed, and perpetually looking backwards, permeate much of this Chicago Shakespeare Theater's season opening production of King Lear.  More a meditation on the harrowing effects of dementia than it is about the loss of power, the play begins with a bored and restless king calling forth his three daughters to profess their paternal love.  The eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, prove to be the most eloquent and are thus rewarded healthy shares of the kingdom.  Cordelia speaks of a more simple, but true love and is cast away for that effort.  The coniving elder sisters then immediately take to weakening their father's grip on the kingdom.  Meanwhile another powerful father, Glouster, is deceived by his bastard son Edmund into turning against his other son Edgar.  Both remaining sisters also take a fancy to Edmund and it does not take an oracle to predict that all this treachery leads to much bloodshed and retribution.

Larry Yando, Nehassaiu deGannes and Kevin Gudahl

Director Barbara Gains takes many chances with this production.  Some, like her use of Frank Sinatra tunes pay off.  She also summons one of the most impressive onstage storms I have ever seen (with booming thunder an exclamation to a bitter king's ranting).  Other risks, such as her constant use of music to accent the tension, felt less sure footed.  In general the first act felt long, but the second, a gory and emotional spectacle, left me at the edge of my seat.  Larry Yando as King Lear is simply amazing; a powerhouse actor, he perfectly follows his character’s descent into madness.  And toward the end of the play he is absolutely terrifying in his stark portrayal of loss.  Also standing out among this very impressive cast is the very physical Jesse Luken (Edmund) and the more every man Steve Haggard (Edward).  Both actors completely possess their characters and make for a fascinating contrast in personalities. 

Weighing in at close to three hours, this might not be for everyone.  But the constant focus on King Lear's disintegration is a fresh take on a classic treasure.  To see Larry Yando able to recover his sensibilities in fleeting moments makes the totality of his loss all the more tragic.  Perhaps "nothing will come of nothing" but in this there is something.

Larry Yando and Steve Haggard

Bottom Line:  King Lear is recommended and is playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater through November 9th.  Tickets vary from $48 to $78 with discounts available for groups of ten or more.  To purchase tickets click here or call 312.595.5600.  For more theater reviews, go to theaterinchicago.

Photos by:  Liz Lauren 

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