Credit: Jan Ellen Graves

William Shakespeare’s 1606 tragedy is often regarded as the Mount Everest of English drama, a towering peak of theatrical poetry whose awesome reputation both intimidates and inspires. But the great strength of Steve Scott’s intimate, bare-bones, modern-dress staging of the play is its emotional humility. With a cast of 19 excellent non-Equity actors—all solidly in command of the Bard’s vigorous, rhythmically dynamic blank verse—this production reminds us that King Lear isn’t just about a monarch; it’s about a man.

Two men, actually: King Lear (Brian Parry) and his friend, the Earl of Gloucester (Darren Jones). Both are old, and both rely on loyal adult children to see them through their final years. But Lear and Gloucester each misjudge their offspring. Lear vainly succumbs to the false flattery of his scheming elder daughters—Regan (KC Karen Hill) and Goneril (Jacqueline Grandt), who secretly despise their father—and disinherits their honest, dutiful sister, Cordelia (Kayla Raelle Holder), for failing to sweet-talk him. And Gloucester prizes his wicked bastard son Edmund (Mark West) while banishing his legitimate heir, Edgar (Robert Hunter Bry), who survives by disguising himself as a mad beggar.

The physical and mental infirmities of age and the inevitability of death hang over this bleak, brutal, yet sometimes surprisingly funny play. Lear—cut off from his family and protected only by his faithful servants Kent (Cameron Feagin) and the Fool (Liz Cloud)—and Gloucester both suffer horribly for their poor judgment, forced to wander mad and blind, respectively, through a tempest-torn world where all established values are turned absurdly inside out and upside down. As they are transformed by their ordeals—and as the story’s villains rise to the heights of power before finally being crushed under their own ambitions—King Lear binds the audience in a collective awareness of the mortality that we share with these characters, and with each other. This is storefront Shakespeare at its best.  v