The boy who would be king

A new version of King Lear provides plenty of spectacle but little else.

ALONG WITH ALL of the sexy and celebrated tasks that theatrical directors get up to (like approving set designs and giving stage managers nervous breakdowns) are a number of entirely mundane but necessary jobs. Chief among these is resource management. Far too often a show's budgetary restrictions or the limitations of particular artists result in the director's original vision being compromised, and while it's frustrating, the resulting tension can create amazing moments of theater as the company scrambles to solve the problem with their imagination and innovation.


Consolidated Works through April 9

Which is all preface to saying that whatever qualities Derek Horton has as a director, he is absolutely god-awful at resource management. His profligate waste of scenic artists, technical staff, and a huge cast (28, five more than Shakespeare used) is evident throughout his current production of Lear, a radical adaptation of Shakespeare's great tragedy now on display at Consolidated Works.

In casting a 12-year-old boy (Harry Jamieson) as Lear, Horton makes the point that the king often acts less like an aged ruler and more like a petulant boy. And that, apparently, is about the only point Horton seeks to make. (It's a little hard to comment on Shakespeare's obsession with the father-daughter relationship, for example, when your Lear is a decade or more their junior.) Jamieson's good at the petulance, but pretty much everything else, including Lear's insanity and journey toward redemption, is just plain not there.

Horton has cut the text significantly, partially so he can include his original music, which is generally tuneful, and Juliet Waller's original choreography, which is so-so. But it's still more or less Shakespeare's original play, albeit dressed up in carnival colors and featuring such innovations as parade floats and onstage welding. Lines are shared out, particularly Lear's, some of which go to his nurse, his mother, and several members of a chorus. All of this color and noise makes the play hard going for anyone not familiar with the story and not a lot of fun for those of us who are.

OCCASIONALLY HORTON manages an original and resonant moment or image, as in a soulful riff for trumpet and spoken word by Gloucester (Shawn Belyea) on the sad state of a divisive world, or a storm sequence that features twirling neon lights, a rain machine, a bowling alley, and some massive steel pipes that are drummed and then sent rolling. Other of his directorial touches are shopworn, like the trick of having a bed placed against a wall and actors standing against it to give us an "overhead view." (Is the state of American experimental theater so enervated that an image like this has to be trotted out at least a couple of times a year in different shows?) Still other choices, like having good daughter Cordelia played by three separate actresses, are ridiculously underutilized. (Having triple-cast the role, his cuts make the character little more than a cameo.)

One of the few happy results of Horton's slash-and-burn approach to the script is that it gives extra weight to the subplot of Gloucester and his sons Edgar (Josh Sebers) and Edmund (Todd Licea). Although these actors are eventually swallowed alive by the confusion and excess of the show, they make a good effort to keep their heads. Belyea's choice to play the earl as an Italian mafiosi is odd but effective, Licea's Edmund is so infatuated with his own villainy that he can't help dancing, and Sebers captures something of the true Holy Fool in good son Edgar before being thrust back into Looney Tunes Land by Horton's dictates.

Most of the rest of the cast give exaggerated and cartoonish performances that are as suited to this forcedly eclectic show as anything else. Erik Van Beuzekom is a strong and effective Kent till he's given electroshock treatment, which is a slight deviation from the script's original action of having him placed in the stocks. (This gives you an idea of what Gloucester's onstage blinding is like.) The show's elaborate parade floats set the tone of this vast but wearying production, because just like a parade, there's little approachable or human-sized about Horton's Lear. Instead, it's all color and spectacle and, like practically every parade I've ever attended, it goes on far too long with no discernable point.

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