Pictured: Logan Black and Theodore Swetz. Photo by Brian Paulette.
By Jessie Chipchase
“King Lear,” the classic Shakespearean tragedy of a father’s misplaced trust and the daughter who loved him anyway, in a co-production between The Kansas City Actors Theatre, and UMKC Theatre, strikes many strong notes, and despite the rocky opening night start, features a top-notch cast. It also features gallons of blood.
In the hands of the ensemble, the story propels forward with energetic dialog and a real commitment to character. Theodore Swetz’s Lear leads the cast with gusto, despite being a bit hard to understand at points. Charlie Spillers gives an especially notable performance as Edgar, the doting son and crazed wanderer. Even in the background, he is engaging. Khalif Gillet as Edgar’s illegitimate half-brother Edmund manages to make evil likable.
Zack Pierson’s sound design adds subtlety and undertone, especially to scenes that imbue the play with movement and quick pacing. Thrilling music mixed with drums fleshes out the story with an epic flair. Lighting and set design are minimal — the play rests primarily on the acting prowess of its players — yet Shannon Barondeau’s lighting provides depth at key moments. Designer Caroline Allander’s costumes, seemingly modeled after early Briton or late Roman attire, exude a tribal flair that is particularly striking.
While the acting and design are successful, the direction can sometimes fall flat. The play’s lengthy monologues are framed by the ensemble in a freeze, which has the reverse of the desired effect, pulling the audience out of the moment to look at statues. With no fight choreographer listed for this production, the violence is represented by dance-like exaggerated displays that fail dramatically, bloody as they are.
Overall, the tragedy of “King Lear” remains intact in an enjoyable production. Despite the absurd fight choreography, the cast holds their own and battles through.
“King Lear” runs October 13th – 22nd. For more information visit kcactors.org.