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A CurtainUp Review
Although this extended riff on Lear has some pithy philosophical moments and inventive staging it doesn't completely coalesce into a whole. This play-within-a-play has a surreal conceit: It takes place inside an abandoned school where three unsupervised children have been bizarrely trapped for years. A brutal war has been raging outside the walls of the school, the apparent reason why the children took refuge here and remain cut-off off from society at-large.
To pass the time, the trio has been performing King Lear. Bot surprisingly, they have pondered this great tragedy at length and developed their own theories and improvisations on crucial scenes, including the Act 3, Scene 6 mock trial. The audience is invited to eavesdrop on their conversations, debates, and improvised performances during which the three actors intermittently adopt the personas of King Lear (Ryan Higgins), his Fool (Rick Burkhardt), and Poor Tom (Andy Gricevich).
The problem with this comic exploration of Lear is that it goes off into too many directions and becomes too arcane. By addressing Greek tragedies like the Oresteia and Oedipus Rex, Storm Still drains the dramatic energy from the Shakespearean journey. Fortunately, Rick Burkhardt, Andy Gricevich and Ryan Higgins have enough acting range and energy to make it a thought-provoking, if off-beat, evening. The cast clearly delights in the hot-button issues of current Shakespearean scholarship and in relying on Shakespeare's text and their own musical accompaniment (a xylophone, child-sized guitar, and a recorder), they peel the drama as if it were the proverbial onion. When they find an extremely baffling layer, they simply segue into the musical equivalent of a "hey, nonny, no."
The best scene by far during the evening features a talking hard-covered copy of Lear that scene reminds us that there are two extant and viable versions of the play: The History of King Lear published in quarto form in 1608, and The Tragedy of King Lear published in the First Folio in 1623. And the rub here is that Act 3, Scene 6, is completed omitted from the latter Shakespearean text. Thus the members of this cast, who cherish the mock trial scene of the 1608 quarto, must come to terms with the fact that their favorite scene is, if not erased by history,in the sterile hands of fastidious Shakespearean scholars.
In spite of its numerous detours and diffuse ramblings, the Nonsense Company's Storm Still poses two key questions about Shakespeare's sublime work: Do we really know King Lear? And, if so, does it still speak to us today? This piece might not give you the answers to these elusive questions, but it will remind you that Shakespeare's plays are living, evolving plays.