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A CurtainUp Review
King Lear


I fear I am not in my perfect mind. —King Lear

Christina Sajous and Andre De Shields in King Lear
Christina Sajous and Andre De Shields in King Lear
Even before King Lear begins, it is clear the Classical Theatre of Harlem has put together a tribal, tense production of Shakespeare’s tragedy. As the audience takes their seats, an actor (Ty Jones as Edmund) anxiously paces the stage. The lights dim, and a militant drum begins to beat. It’s the beginning of a visceral, powerful production, expertly staged by Alfred Presser and performed with energy and dedication from its sizable cast.

Just a few minutes into the play King Lear (André De Shields) explodes in rage and banishes his daughter Cordelia (Christina Sajous), beginning the tragic chain of events that lead to so many deaths and so much deceit. It comes as no surprise that Broadway vet and terrific dancer De Shields takes on the role of King Lear with intense physicality. His Lear is most moving and terrifying in his mad leaps around the stage and his frantic running from betrayal. It’s an involving, fast pace performance,though De Shields doesn’t manage to competely capture the heartbreak of Lear’s madness turning into stillness and grief.

De Shields is in good company. The rest of the cast matches his adeptness at graceful and meaningful movement, making for an incredibly physical production overall. It is a production that's both unflinchingly violent (during the fight scenes, beautifully choreographed by Denis Alessandria Hurd) and unapologetically sensual.

Lear’s two evil daughters, Goneril (Robyne Landiss Walker) and Regan (Zainab Jah), as well as Jones as Edmund, the ambitious bastard the women vie over, are particularly excellent. The trio just oozes amoral sexuality as they plot and plan against Lear and each other. Even the Fool (Ken Schatz) has a sexual side, although the wisecracking Schatz thankfully doesn’t overdo it in this area.

The production is also physically beautiful. The large stage is set with a series of platforms and risers and it is one of the strengths of Presser’s staging that the entire stage and all its levels arewell utilized. The actors roll underneath the platforms, walk on top of them, move them across the stage (while characters are in fact standing on them), and even topple them over for dramatic effect. The effect smartly contributes towards providing the needed sense of size and scope required. Even more beautiful are Kimberly Glennon’s costumes, which are warmly colored robes and wraps reminiscent of the ancient Middle East.

ta a little over two hours, the production is a short one by Shakespeare’s standards. This is no doubt due to the fact that the play is more choreographed than recited, with action almost always taking precedence over words. It’s wonderful to have such an intense, creative two hours, but the cost of this decision is that some of the ins and outs of the plot aren’t always quite as understandable as they could be. But what is always clear is that this remains a fascinating study of violence, cruelty, heartbreak, madness and betrayal.

KING LEAR
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Directed by Alfred Pressier
Cast: Duane Allen (France), Jerome Preston Bates (Kent), Danny Camiel (Albany), Jaime Robert Carrillo (Oswald), Noshir Dalal (Burgundy), AndrÈ De Shields (Lear), Zainab Jah (Regan), Ty Jones (Edmund), Ted Lange (Gloucester), Shayshahn “Phearone” Macpherson (Knight/Musician), Francis Mateo (Cornwall), Christina Sajous (Cordelia), Ken Schatz (Fool), Alexander Sovronsky (Servant/Herald/Musician), John Douglas Thompson (Edgar), Robyne Landiss Walker (Goneril)
Set Design: Troy Hourie
Costume Design: Kimberly Glennon
Lighting Design: Aaron Black
Fight Director: Denise A. Hurd
Running time: 2 Hours with Intermission
From Sept 29 through November 5, 2006; opening October 6, 2006
Weds through Sat @ 8pm, Sun 3pm
Tickets: $35
Reviewed Julia Furay based on October 4th performance

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