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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
King Lear

If thou wert my fool, nuncle, I'd have thee beaten/ for being old before thy time. —Fool
How's that?—King Lear
Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst/ been wise.—Fool
King Lear
Dennis Krausnick
(Photo credit: KennethSprague)
I wish our New York critic Deirdre Donovan could have visited the Berkshires long enough to see King Lear as well as The Tempest. Seeing both productions currently sharing Shakespeare & Co's main stage would have given hr a chance to experience th special and, these days, rare pleasure of seeing repertory staging in full bloom, with actors she saw in The Tempest donning new costumes and personas for King Lear. Thus Jonathan Epstein who was a standout as the comic Stephano, makes the most of the role of Kent; Kristin Wold the ethereal Ariel is now one of Lear's awful daughters, Regan; Ryan Winkles, Prospera's son-in-law to be, is the Earl of Gloucester's son Edgar. The superb Epstein actually played Lear at an exceptionally young age, in the Company's 2003 production (review).

King Lear
Jonathan Epstein
(Photo credit: KennethSprague)
King Lear  -2003
Jonathan Epstein as Lear & Kevin G. Coleman as the Fool in th 2003 production at Shakespeare & Co.
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Had she been able to seen this Lear Deirdre would also have had a chance to meet some of the Company's other regulars: Corinna May, the chill inducing oldest daughter, Goneril, Jonathan Croy as the Earl of Gloucester; and Kevin G. Coleman (who also played the Fool in the 2003 production). All these actors have also done stellar work in the more contemporary productions which Shakespeare & Company has always presented along with their tributes to the Bard. This being an actor-manager company, many have also multi-tasked — Coleman as Director of Education; Elizabeth and Malcolm Ingram have often been on stage instead of behind the scenes as dialect coaches. During the early days at Edith Wharton's Estate, Dennis Krausnick started adapting Wharton's stories and novels into plays. Though the move to Kemble Street put an end to those wonderful adaptations, a former Company member and her partner have launched an annual Wharton Salon which from August 15th to 26th will present The Inner House, Krausnick's adaptation of Wharton's 1934 autobiography, A Backward Glance, with Tod Randolph taking time out from Cassandra Speaks to play Wharton. (Watch for my review).

Because of scheduling conflicts I didn't get to see this latest Lear when it opened. If truth be told, I've seen enough Lears, including Law and Order's DA Sam Waterston, to react with a ho-hum to the prospect of another 3 hours with the father who misjudges his daughters and suffers the consequnces. Still, having summered in the Berkshires for some 20 years and watching Shakespeare & Co's productions in the company's first home and more recently in its lovely Elizabethan venue on Kemble Street, I didn't want to miss seeing Dennis Krausnick who, unlike Jonathan Epstein, waited until he was old enough to be a natural choice for the part every actor sees as the capstone of his career. While perhaps not a name or performance that would spring first to anyone's lips when asked to name their favorite Lear, Krausnick certainly brings passion and nuance to his turn at the role. Nor would this production's overall rank at the tippy top of my most memorable presentations.

Director Rebecca Holderness's production does have a new wrinkle. She's opted to set the story in Tsarist Russia. She explains her reasoning in the program as follows: "I have set this production in 1906 Russia in order to recall a time in recent memory when the errors, both public and private, of a great and passionate ruler led to the demise of a family, an empire, and a way of life. Sometimes illuminating and often surprising, the setting serves as a visual landscape where we acan see the greatness of the fall from power and frame precincts of madness and risk." I don't quite buy into this concept as the dialogue is true to the text and contains references to British places that contradict the Russian tie-in. But okay, Lear's tragedy is a universal story of false concepts about love and loyalty and the Romanov's too were a doomed dynasty. At any rate It makes for gorgeous costumes (a shout out for Govane Lohbauer).

Aside from the questionable Russian twist, Holderness's direction is well paced and clear. Sandra Goldmark once again manages to create a fully staged look with minimal scenery, Seeing Lear within a week of The Tempest once again made me appreciate the pleasures of seeing a true repertory company strut its diversity.

King Lear
By William Shakespeare (written between 1603 and 1606, later revised)
Directed by Rebecca Holderness
Cast: Thomas Brazzle (Duke of Burgundy/ Ensemble), Caroline Calkins, (Maid/ Ensemble), Kevin G. Coleman (The Fool), Jonathan Croy (Earl of Gloucester), Timothy Douglas (Oswald, Steward to Goneril), Jonathan Epstein (Earl of Kent), Kelly Galvin (Cordelia), Dennis Krausnick (King Lear), Zoe Laiz (Herald/ Ensemble), Peter Macklin (Edmund, bastard son of Gloucester), Corinna May (Goneril), James Read (Duke of Albany), Eric Sirakian (Kent’s Gentleman, Ensemble), Brendan Sokler (Captain/ Ensemble), Enrico Spada (King of France/ Ensemble), Alex Stewart (Cornwall’s Servant/ Ensemble), Bill Watson (Duke of Cornwall), Ryan Winkles (Edgar), Kristin Wold (Regan)
Set Design: Sandra Goldmark
Costume Design: Govane Lohbauer
Lighting Design: Matthew E. Adelson
Composer/ Sound Design, Peter Bayne: Fight Choreographer: Michael F. Toomey
Voice and Text Coach: Elizabeth Ingram
Production Stage Manager: Hope Rose Kelly
Shakespeare & Company Tina Packer Theatre
June 16 to August 19
Running Time: Approximately three hours with one intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 3rd
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