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A CurtainUp San Diego Review
Like all of Shakespeare's plays, King Lear involves a number of subplots, butt the main story is the most poignant. Lear, an aging king, wants to divide up his kingdom among his three daughters but before he acts, he demands to know which one loves him the most. The oldest two, Goneril and Regan, offer pretty and flattering speeches. When the youngest and his favorite, Cordelia, merely says she has no words to describe how much she loves him, Lear flies into a rage and disowns her. Goneril and Regan begin to scheme and plot to undermine what little authority remains to their father. Unable to handle the betrayal of the unloving daughters, Lear goes mad. The final tragedy that breaks his heart is the discovery that Cordelia has been hanged . Refreshingly, Noble didn't try to set the play in Nazi Germany, or Stone Age-era Ireland, or France during the Revolution, or the Russian Cold War-era Russia, or anywhere else that directors have chosen as background. Instead, he let Lear be Lear. Which is entirely appropriate for an outdoor festival a setting where artifice is just that—artifice.
Because of the production's simplicity, the acting shines. This is an ensemble that's done its homework (as one would expect under Noble's tutelage). They understand every word and nuance of Shakespeare's elevated language.
I especially enjoyed Bruce Turk as an uncharacteristically melancholy Fool; Jay Whittaker and Jonno Roberts as Edgar and Edmund, the feuding half-brothers; and Charles Janasz as Gloucester. They were every bit as riveting as Lear himself (Robert Foxworth), who was very regal, if slightly unconvincing as a madman.
Ralph Funicello's simple set sits on a wooden platform dense with fallen leaves. Two wooden staircases stand at either side and two enormous Japanese-style sliding wooden doors in the back. That's it. And that's really all you need. Lighting (Alan Burrett) and music (sound design, Christopher R. Walker and original music, Shaun Davey) take care of the rest, differentiating the various locations. Even the famous storm scene is relatively low-tech, mostly fierce storm sounds punctuated with swirling snow. (But the snow is really beautiful.) Deirdre Clancy's costumes are simple but lush; the three daughters' dresses in the opening scene are her best.
While most of the country swelters under a heat wave, San Diego's weather remains between 65 and 75 degrees all year round. However, as befits a semi-arid desert climate, the nights get chilly, even in June. Accordingly, the opening night outdoor performance most of the audience was bundled into blankets, braving 59-degree evenng temperatures. But no one fidgeted or left, even as the blanket supply ran out. Animal sounds from the nearby San Diego Zoo proivided an eerie soundtrack of their own. And so, chills notwithstanding, this is a most enjoyable outdoor performance visit with the Bard. Just remember to bring a blanket.