King Lear, Piven Theatre. When I heard that Shira Piven was directing her father, actor and teacher Byrne Piven, in the lead role of King Lear, my first thought was that the production would be really terrific or really awful. Either she’d shape a rich, resonant staging out of her own experience with her father and his grown children or she’d run from the challenge.

Apparently she opted for the second: this is a lackluster production of one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful plays. Part of the problem is Danila Korogodsky’s eccentric set, strewn with rocks and sand. It adds nothing and actually distracts us from the drama every time Shira Piven attempts to justify its existence: rocks stand in for such disparate props as fencing foils and letters.

A greater problem is the all-thumbs ensemble. Byrne Piven does all right as the pompous, easily angered king, but he’s increasingly stiff and awkward when playing the sad, vulnerable Lear of the second half. Yet his performance is brilliant when set beside F. David Roth’s annoying, utterly humorless interpretation of the fool, who comes across as neither funny nor wise. Instead Roth’s fool is a rather stern, puritanical sort who got the job of jester, I assume, because there were no openings in Lear’s accounting department.

–Jack Helbig