Trinity Repertory Company launches its 49th season with an explosive, spine-tingling production of "King Lear," William Shakespeare's tragic tale of a monarch gone mad and sibling rivalry at its worst.
"King Lear" is directed by Kevin Moriarty, formerly of Trinity Rep, in collaboration with Dallas Theater Center (DTC) where he serves as Artistic Director. The superb cast includes a winning combination of actors from Trinity Rep and DTC's Brierley Resident Acting Company, to where the production will travel in January.
Brian McEleney gives the performance of his life in the title role, masterfully conveying the ornery elder gentleman's descent into insanity. The veteran actor invites the audience to bear witness to Lear's rage and culminating madness from the moment he first appears on stage with his daughters, Goneril (Christie Vela), Regan (Angela Brazil), and Cordelia (Abbey Siegworth).
The retiring King has decided to divide his estate among the three, but offers the largest share to the one daughter able to convince him she loves him most. Older sisters Goneril and Regan follow suit, showering their father with contrived praise, whereas Cordelia speaks frankly and earnestly, much to his chagrin. A disgruntled Lear disinherits her then banishes his comrade, the Earl of Kent (Hassan El-Amin), who cries foul over the King's treatment of the young Cordelia.
Meanwhile, the Earl of Gloucester (Phyllis Kay) has fallen victim to the lies and trickery of her illegitimate son, Edmund (Lee Trull), who falsely portrays his older brother, Edgar (Steven Michael Walters), as a traitor. The outlawed Edgar flees, and yet while in hiding, after a series of unfortunate events, he eventually crosses paths with his blinded mother, and an increasingly unhinged Lear who has since been betrayed by both Goneril and Regan. As with any of Shakespeare's tragedies, the ensuing drama results in doom, death and destruction.
The director and the entire cast deserve the utmost praise for delivering the Bard's work with such intense, electrifying results.
Walters is particularly brilliant in his commanding portrayal of wronged heir Edgar, and Trull is equally compelling as his sinister, double-crossing brother, Edmund. The always pleasant Kay is especially poignant as Gloucester and El-Amin's performance as the dignified Kent is both precise and purposeful.
It would be criminal not to mention the frivolous yet hardly superfluous Oswald, Goneril's steward, and the Fool, played by Trinity masters Fred Sullivan, Jr. and Stephen Berenson, whose antics provide the tragic timeline of events with much needed comic relief.
Much like Lear's overarching temperament, Michael McGarty's remarkable, intricate set design has a bold, understated appearance at first, until it collapses, literally, amidst an actual rainstorm, during which the audience braces itself and becomes one with Lear's catharsis.
"King Lear" at Trinity Rep has set the bar high for what could well turn out be another unforgettable season. I especially urge those not familiar with Shakespeare's play to take part in this superlative theatrical experience.
"King Lear" continues through October 21 at Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI. For info or tickets, visit Trinity Repertory Company's website.