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Article last updated:
Thursday, September 27, 2001   8:32 AM MST
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Roll out the red carpet for 'king Lear'

Three Stars - A Royal Treatment

By Alina Larson -
STAFF WRITER

Although it could have done with a bit more energy, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival offers a triumphant production of ``King Lear." To be sure, the audience is not sinned against.

The key story lines in this famed tragedy examine the relationship between parents and children. And the actors in this production, which runs through Oct. 7 at the Gershwin Theatre in San Francisco, do a fine job of conveying the play's emotional power.

King Lear, in an effort to relieve himself of the responsibilities of the throne yet still maintain power, divides his land between his daughters Goneril and Regan. He disinherits his only good daughter, Cordelia, because she refuses to express her love for her father in exchange for land.

Meanwhile, Lear's friend, the Earl of Gloucester, contends with his two sons. Edmund, a bastard son, plots to rob Edgar, Gloucester's legitimate son, of his entitlement. The ensuing struggles between all parties reveal several other themes, including age, justice, the role of the gods and nature.

With the intertwining of story lines and such a broad range of intricate subjects explored, director Paul Barry keeps the pace bustling and the set minimal.

Gray and black fabric flank a stone-like stage that is slanted down toward the audience, allowing easy access to all characters and action. Few props grace the stage in this production other than the occasional table or throne.

Sound effects are very spare and the ones that are used hit and miss. One scene features the loud chirping of birds conveying an oddly forced cheerfulness, while the crucial storm scene has realistic sounds of pouring rain.

The storm scene may have benefited from a more elaborate set or effects, although again, with Lear's madness creating confusion, less distraction is probably better.

Lighting and costumes also lean toward the spare. Befitting pagan Britain, royalty and subjects are clad in a combination of the opulent and rough, with burlap over velvet.

Casting is dead-on with almost every character, starting with Lear himself. Veteran Bay Area actor Ray Reinhardt has tackled larger-than-life roles throughout his career, from Willy Loman in ``Death of a Salesman" to Stanley Kowalski in ``A Streetcar Named Desire." He even has three daughters, like Lear. In his performance the audience truly feels Lear's decay - from arrogance to vulnerability to his crumbling connection to reality.

Other very strong performances can be found in Robert Sicular's turn as the feisty but ever-loyal Earl of Kent and Julian Lopez-Morillas' portrayal of the Earl of Gloucester. Lopez-Morillas reveals his considerable experience with Shakespeare plays in his command of the language.

The younger male leads are no less captivating. Will Springhorn, Jr., plays a winningly conniving Edmund and, as Edgar, Jonathan Rhys Williams is all wide-eyed naivete at the play's start, unyielding at its end.

Although there are no mothers in ``King Lear," the three daughters do enough to make up for them. The treacherous sisters Goneril and Regan are portrayed to haughty perfection by Kay Kostopoulos and Jenny Lord, respectively. Lord, in particular, brings a reptilian glamour to her role.

Shannon Barry, who plays Cordelia, is endearing with her guileless devotion to her father, depicted particularly vividly in the tearful scene in which Cordelia is banished from the kingdom for not describing her love for her father.

As Lear's Fool, Gerald Hiken tells his truth-disguised jokes and riddles with impish charm.

The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival proves again that it knows what it's doing, offering the complexity of ``King Lear" with an attainable yet lyrical grace.


You can reach Alina Larson at (650) 348-4333 or by e-mail at alarson@angnewspapers.com.

IF YOU GO

William Shakespeare's ``King Lear"

Presented by: San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

Where: Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Theatre, 2350 Turk Blvd., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; plus 2 p.m. Oct. 6 and 7; and 11 a.m. this Tuesday, Wednesday and Oct. 4; closes Oct. 7

Tickets: $34-$26

Call: (415) 392-4400 or visit http://www.sfshakes.org/

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