The updating of classical texts, as was done with King Lear by the Pulse Theatre Ensemble, poses numerous questions as to why classical material is revised. If a director chooses to set the piece in a different period to enhance the play's universality, then the effort may not be in vain. If the play utilizes contemporary clothing and speech to make the script more understandable, then mistakes can be forgiven. Even if a company wants to completely deconstruct the play to expound its themes, then perhaps flaws can be overlooked. But if the time period causes more laughter than illumination, the language sounds completely mumbled, and source's themes aren't expounded, why do it?
As produced by Pulse, the idea of transporting King Lear to a 1950s Mafia family living in New York City held some intrigue, but only for a few minutes. After those moments, neither director Alexa Kelly nor the ensemble's efforts held much interest or reason for being. More My Cousin Vinnie than The Godfather, this Lear was at best misguided camp and at worst intolerable.
Not all was lost, however. The acting of Hanna Hayes as Gloucester and Carl Danielsen as Edgar was so good that the evening could have been called Gloucester and Edgar. Unfortunately, even with their nuanced performances they were often upstaged by inconsistent blocking. Ed Schiff, as Lear, was overwrought and seemed to telegraph his emotions as if performing in Giants Stadium rather than a 99-seat theater. Further, although he may have been physically accurate to cast as Lear (in a more traditional production), he never came across as an Italian Don.
As Edmund, Adam Green appeared so angry that his scenery-chewing became tiresome in a few minutes. Still worse, during his opening monologue, in which crucial bits of information establish the major subplot of the show, a set change took place that caused much racket and distraction. Francesca Morrone as Goneril, Melanie McCarthy as Regan, and Carlie McCarthy as Cordelia all played their parts as stereotypical Italian shrews.
The spare set by Jennifer Varbalow, which consisted of beams hanging from the ceiling, worked in scenes like Edmund gouging out Gloucester's eyes, but was unsuccessful during the big scenes with the family; it also clashed with Terry Leong's wonderfully gaudy costumes. The lights and sound by Louis Lopardi were effective, especially in the storm sequences. At such times the blowing wind, cracking thunder, and rolling fog were entrancing, but were the oncoming truck sounds and headlights really necessary?
(Also featuring: Frank Episale, Bruce Nicholls, Brian Linden, Glenn Stoops, Mark Campbell, Jon Stuart Freeman, Margaret Flanagan, Hal B. Klein, Karen Sweeney and Marco Aponte.)
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Copyright 2001 Andrés J. Wrath