“King Lear” at Seattle Shakespeare

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The cast of Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of “King Lear.” Photo by John Ulman.

Oh Lear, how could you be so foolish? There you are, a seemingly well-liked and quite competent king, and what do you do but give away your assets and your powers to the next generation. Your vanity demands that the distribution depend on how each of your three daughters lauds you and professes her love for you. Goneril and Regan, the avaricious two, rise to the challenge with smarmy declarations. Cordelia, the one who really loves you and whom you knew really loves you, wants to play no word game. If only you weren’t so vain.

Of course, once they get their power, Goneril and Regan with their husbands plot your end. Cordelia never waivers in her love for you even after you banish her. Meanwhile in the Duke of Gloucester’s family, bastard son turns against legitimate son. It’s a rapid spiral down for all. The plight of old age with all its losses and the potential tensions and the rivalries within families are certainly here, but the overall production lacks fire.

There are powerful moments. Dan Kremer as Lear has gravitas when sane. He doesn’t make a very good mad man. Michael Winters triumphs as Gloucester, the man who grows in stature and reason as the play progresses and who is so horribly wronged. The scene with the blinding of Gloucester is devastating.

Linda K. Morris as Goneril and Debra Pralle as Regan have moments of true grace. They can move from haughty to vicious in the blink of an eye. The decision to play the Duke of Kent as Duchess of Kent was brilliant. Amy Thone owns the role. She exudes fortitude, wisdom and an ability to see life’s ironies even in the most difficult circumstances.

But great bits and pieces don’t make for a great production. This plays on the large Cornish Playhouse stage (formerly Intiman), and Director Sheila Daniels decided to mount it with minimalist set and with costumes that are neither modern nor early 17th Century. The huge stage seems to overwhelm what goes on within it. This is especially true in one of the memorable moments in the play—the storm. Here again it was too little for the big stage.

So, despite some really fine high spots, this turns out to be a long three hours.

Through May 11 by Seattle Shakespeare Company at Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

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