Theatre review: King Lear – you won’t find a better deal in town

The current production of King Lear at the Havana has got to be one of this century’s best entertainment deals.  With its back-breaking 180 minutes and tiny $15 admission price, that translates to a paltry eight cents a minute; a deal that would make even the good folks at Groupon swoon.

Following on the success of its Hamlet in 2010, which made our top ten list that year, director Kevin Bennett and his company are back on the tiny Havana stage with an equally immersive and ambitious project.

As if sitting inside the King’s court, the bulk of the small 60 seats are arranged in four rows with a central acting area separating the two halves and smaller aisles between each of those rows.  As Lear falls deeper into his madness we get an up-close view of that descent as actors speak directly to us as if looking for our agreement or understanding, reach out for solace or even hold props as the action envelopes us.

Simon Webb gives us a suitably tortured King although it would have been more gratifying if there was a little room for his madness to reach its crescendo.  Among the daughters it is Renee Bucciarelli as Goneril who is the most deliciously calculating and while Emma Slipp is imposing in her Regan, she was much more convincing when she wasn’t matching Joel Stephanson’s screams.  Katherine Gauthier gives a wonderfully restrained performance as the disinherited daughter Cordelia and it is a shame she disappears for much of the action after leaving for France.  Sebastian Kroon gives his Fool a darkened edge as if plucked from a Stephen King novel but it is David Bloom’s Kent that felt the most solid.  Julie McIsaac as the gender-bend Edgar gives a nice performance but I can’t help think that this, like other recent Shakespearean gender-bends, was a lost opportunity.

Simon Webb in the Honest Fishmonger Equity Co-op production of King Lear.  Photo by Emily Cooper.
Simon Webb in the Honest Fishmonger Equity Co-op production of King Lear.  Photo by Emily Cooper.

Despite its in-your-face attitude and some fine performances there were still moments inside Shakespeare’s massively overblown story that it would sometimes take the brush of an actor rushing by to pull me back.  At times the immersion had the oddly opposite effect on me as I became distracted and lost any connection with the characters; I admit to feeling little by the time everyone starts dropping like flies.

Shizuka Kai creates a four-walled set that effectively places us inside Lear’s court to complete director Kevin Bennett’s vision but costume designer Christopher David Gauthier missed the mark here with a somewhat confused assortment of fur and feathered costumes.

This really is “full-contact Shakespeare” but at times it felt like a necessity.  Fortunately it comes with a price that is hard to ignore.

4 Out of 5 Stars King Lear

By William Shakespeare.  Directed by Kevin Bennett.  An Honest Fishmongers Equity Co-op production.  On stage at the Havana Theatre through March 17, 2012.  Visit http://honestfishmongers.blogspot.com for tickets and information.

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