A fresh, contemporary take on a Shakespeare masterpiece.
By Joel Benjamin
Playwright Patrick Thomas McCarthy has written an admirable, if not totally successful gloss on Shakespeare’s King Lear, adhering to the basic themes of greed, delusion, lust and the breakdown of a family, while simultaneously spinning the story in a fully modern way. He combines snippets of Shakespeare—from several works—with contemporary language, while his director Patrick Aran’s staging keeps Fools speeding along at a brisk pace, the colorful cast keeping up with all the cascades of McCarthy’s words.
Lear (David Palmer Brown) has morphed into a Rupert Murdoch-like billionaire, head of a huge corporation, who is suffering the rapid deterioration of Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of a kingdom, it is his portfolio he is dividing, asking—as in the original—how his three children feel toward him before he performs the surgery on his holdings. His nasty brood includes two luridly awful daughters, the hard-to-the-core old maid businesswoman Anneril (Cynthia Granville) and the recently widowed, sex-starved Reagan (Catherine Goodman) plus a young son, Cord (Cameron Moser) who morphs into “daughter” Cordelia, nurse to the doddering Lear.
Advising him is Glenn Storr (Jean Brassard) who plans to manipulate Lear to benefit his own two sons, hunky, straight Edmond (Tim Shelton) and gay, pain-in-the-ass Edgar (Drew Bolander) who is having an affair with Cord. Edmond is used as a sexual pawn to rein in the two hot-to-trot sisters while Edgar has his own ulterior motives for his bedding Cord.
McCarthy combines some of Shakespeare’s characters. Storr is an amalgam of Kent and Gloucester (even getting his eyes gouged out); Cord is Cordelia and the Fool; Anneril & Reagan are composites of Goneril & Regan and their evil spouses. Although the play could use some fleshing out to smooth out some of its too sudden switches in mood, McCarthy still displays his cleverness with a command of each character’s language.
The simple set, made up of tables, chairs, pillows, all efficiently rearranged to indicate different places, is by Mr. Aron and the modern costumes with just the right suggestion of wealth and royalty are by Susan Cook.
The acting was fine. Mr. Brown’s Lear was believably impaired while still maintaining his dignity. Mr. Brassard, a very fine cabaret singer, had a commanding presence. Ms. Granville’s Anneril prowled the stage while spouting her lines while Ms. Goodman displayed just the right amount of insecurity and neediness. Mr. Moser’s game Cord/Cordelia was sympathetic and warm, torn as he was between serving his father and his lover, Edgar. As played by Mr. Bolander, Edgar was just the right amount of annoyance with a puppy-dog sexiness. Mr. Shelton, is, indeed, hunky, but he made Edmond a complex figure, tormented by the demands of his situation.
Patrick McCarthy is on to something here and should expand on it, perhaps thinking about reining in some of the more campy/cartoony elements while still keeping these characters larger than life.
The Lears: Fools of Fortune – July 13-19, 2015
Fresh Fruit Festival – The Wild Project
195 East 3rd Street, between Avenue A & B New York, NY www.FreshFruitFestival.com
For more information visit www.ptmcplaywriting.com
Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission