By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
There are plenty of reasons to see Avant Bard’s stunning production of William Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” and I’ll give you a few of them. Reading this will only take a moment of your time, but you’ll be glad you did should you be looking for an interesting way to spend a summer evening between now and June 25.
King Lear as inhabited by Rick Foucheux is spellbinding. His well-trained voice crackles and whips the other actors and the audience into the frenzy he is experiencing, without us realizing that we’ve gone on this difficult journey willingly and unquestionly. When he breaks, we feel that schism keenly, and wish it could be otherwise.
Cam Magee as the gender bender Gloucester (in this production a woman and mother, as opposed to Shakespeare’s man and father) takes some getting used to, but her innate warmth steadies Lear and brings an entirely new dimension to the play from other productions I’ve seen.
The play itself is one of Shakespeare’s iconic masterpieces. If you’ve read it, great, if you haven’t you’ll understand this telling of the story of a man wanting to retire, anxious to leave portions of his estate to his children, and all he asks is to hear how much each child loves him. Oops! Bad decision! Problems (treason, murder, madness) ensue on a grand scale.
The other roles are finely drawn and distinctive. The villains in this production are in-your-face bad, while those with a moral compass are steadfast and sympathetic. Examples of the nice guys would be Vince Eisenson as Kent and Sara Barker in the pants role of Edgar, Gloucester’s wronged son. Christopher Henley as The King of France/The Fool gets the juiciest things to say and seems to be having a ball, especially when he is playing The Fool.
The lighting and sound truly make the production grand—and when you hear, feel and see the apocalypse of the thunderstorms, you can almost understand how Lear could go completely around the bend, shattering his family and driving his country into war and chaos. Plus, you are no further than ten feet from the edge of the “stage” and the action in this very intimate space. One word of caution, however, bring a jacket or wrap! It got really cold during the performance I saw and it was quite uncomfortable for some of us.
These are some of the many reasons I highly recommend that you experience this once-in-a-lifetime production of “King Lear.” You will find it’s an engaging night full unanswered questions, and a case study in how not to retire and terrorize your family with your fears and self-doubt. It’s a play about our everyday lives, but on a much grander scale, I imagine, but maybe not….
“King Lear” plays through June 25, 2017, at Avant Bard Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S Lang Street in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 418-4808 or purchase them online. Running time is two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.