Performed in bold midriff-baring modern dress on a bleak inner-city landscape, Peace College Theatre's in-your-face presentation of King Lear has a raunchy, simmering Punk Rock ambience that adds a new dimension to William Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy of parental vanity and filial ingratitude. Dr. Kenny C. Gannon’s daring gender-bending directorial vision, which casts a number of women in men’s roles and amps up the play’s sex and violence, and Peace alumna Sonya Drum’s striking scenic design, inspired by the graffiti-smeared walls of a seedy section of a major city, make this a PG-13 rated production.
Gannon builds his Grand Guignol around a majestic performance of the title role by Seattle actor/director/playwright Eddie Levi Lee. Lee’s charismatic characterization captures the essence of the fiery old fool, whose rash decision to parcel up his kingdom to his three daughters, giving most to the one who says she loves him most, sets the play’s tragic events in motion.
Lee’s fellow Equity actor Michael Morrison is likewise excellent as the king’s old friend and confidant the Earl of Kent, whom Lear angrily exiles for questioning his judgment in the matter of dividing his kingdom; and Lynda Clark gives a poignant performance as the Earl of Gloucester. Derrick Ivey’s portrayal as Gloucester’s legitimate son Edgar, is sometimes over-the-top twitchy when Edgar is feigning madness; but Lance Waycaster is wonderfully wicked as Gloucester’s oversexed bastard son Edmund, whose Machiavellian machinations bring heartbreak to so many.
Speaking of oversexed schemers, Kristal DeSantis and especially Sarah Thomas are terrific as Lear’s hellcat daughters Goneril and Regan, with their alley-cat morals and penchant for gouging out the eyes of those who displease them; but Melissa Folckemer comes off more sullen than sincere as Lear’s faithful daughter Cordelia, whose refusal to flatter her father’s vanity causes his volcanic temper to erupt. Melissa Maxwell is good as Lear’s Fool, and David Byron Hudson is suitably creepy as Goneril’s steward and cat’s-paw Oswald.
The contributions of lighting designer Jennifer Becker, technical director Curtis Jones, fight director Jeff A.R. Jones, fight captain David Byron Hudson, scenic designer Sonya Drum, sound designer Becca Easley and especially costumer Lynda Clark combine with Dr. Kenny Gannon’s staging and Sonya Drum’s set design to make Peace College Theatre’s rendition of King Lear memorable, despite rough edges, a few cast members’ difficulties with Shakespearean diction, and moments of questionable taste. Be forewarned, this is NOT your father’s Shakespeare—and certainly inappropriate for younger children.
Peace College Theatre presents King Lear Thursday-Friday, Feb. 22-23, at 7:30 p.m. in Leggett Theatre on the second floor of the Main Building, 15 East Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15 ($5 students and $10 Peace faculty and staff). 919/508-2051. Note: Noted Raleigh psychiatrist Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA, will lead a talkback session after the Feb. 23rd performance. Peace College Theatre: http://www.peace.edu/theatre/ [inactive 9/07]. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy the University of Virginia): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. King Lear (e-text courtesy UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaKLF.html (1623 First Folio) and http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobLear.html (1866 Globe Edition).