A Noise Within's production of "King Lear," directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, is a haunting reminder of the betrayals of human relationships and those of one's own mind that come with age.
Starring Geoff Elliott as King Lear, the play is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragic tale. Toward the end of his life, Lear divides his realm between two of his daughters, Goneril (Trisha Miller) and Regan (Arie Thompson). Choosing not to offer exaggerated outpourings of love for Lear like her conniving sisters, Cordelia (Erika Soto), the king's youngest and favorite daughter, receives nothing and is banished from the kingdom when all she can offer up is a simple "nothing."
Lear, despite rapidly losing his mental faculties, realizes his daughters' cruelty as they attempt to get rid of the number of knights he keeps by his side. Refusing to stay with either one of them, he storms off with only his fool (Kasey Mahaffy) and the Earl of Kent (Stephen Weingartner) by his side. The Earl of Kent, disguising himself as a man named Caius, remains true to the king despite having been exiled for defending Cordelia.
Lear is not the only father to find himself betrayed by his offspring. The Earl of Gloucester (Apollo Dukakis) finds himself in a similar situation with his illegitimate, "bastard" son Edmund (Freddy Douglas), who forges a letter to convince the Earl that his legally recognized song, Edgar (Rafael Goldstein), is plotting against him.
Despite its modern take, the production does not dilute the potent tragedy that drives the story. Elliott's portrayal as the senile and wronged king is commanding and powerful, his booming voice echoing across the theater as he shifts from unhinged outbursts to relative moments of lucidity.
Mahaffy also stole the show with his portrayal of the fool, his performance simultaneously delightful and harrowing as his loyalty to the king eventually costs him his life. Light on his feet but with a dominant presence on stage, Mahaffy offered comedic relief in an otherwise grim play.
Goldstein, one of the company's most talented actors, also stood out. He does not falter in his performance as Edgar. He quickly but subtly shifts from a relatively clueless earl's son to one who scrambles to survive when his father's men are sent after him. Disguising himself as Poor Tom, Edgar appears on stage with nothing but sunglasses, a cloth for modesty, and cuts all over his body. King Lear also finds himself similarly bare on stage. This motif of nudity is a somewhat blasé and overdone tool to remind viewers of the characters' vulnerability, but it works for both Lear and Tom. There is something distressing and humbling about seeing a grown man so exposed in spite of his own wit and better judgment that triggers feelings of discomfort and sympathy.
Between the three sisters, Miller's portrayal of Goneril was the strongest. Miller's presence is fierce and pragmatic as she makes the stage her own, infusing her acting with enough raw emotion and drama, but not so much so that it comes off as overacting, as is commonly the case with Shakespearean plays.
Visually, the production offered a spartan but effective stage, with powerful images of the king's deteriorating mind in the form of brain scans projected across a screen. Watching the king's sanity devolve against the backdrop of the inside of his own mind was both moving and sobering.
"King Lear" runs in repertory at A Noise Within through May 6th. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes and includes one intermission. For tickets and show times, visit http://www.anoisewithin.org/play/king-lear/.