- King Lear
The Dallas Theatre Center’s King Lear was a co-production with the Trinity Repertory Theater, first performed in Providence, Rhode Island in the fall of 2012 and then in Dallas, Texas in the spring of 2013. Director Kevin Moriarty attended the conservatory program at Trinity Rep in 1992, so it was only fitting that the last production of the DTC’s four-year Shakespeare cycle would be in conjunction with the theater company that he credits in his formation as an actor and director. Additionally, his mentors from his time at Trinity Rep took center stage: Brian McEleney as Lear and Stephen Berenson as the Fool. Emma Katherine Atwood attended the Providence production (see her review above), and I attended the Dallas one. It seems that the production did not change much once it moved to Texas; both offered a contemporary examination of a king’s descent into madness and total loss of control over his faculties, kingdom, and most significantly, his family.
Lear is a bleak play, marked by a fatalistic realism, and this production made no attempts to hide that. In the program notes, Moriarty wrote that the play “clearly and devastatingly . . . reveals the fragility of the ties that hold us together as a society, within our families, and even within our psyches.” The set itself was a symbol of these tenuous holds: a large hall with marbled floors and a single chandelier, dark wood walls, and a series of doors served as the throne room at the start of the play. As the performance went on and those ties were cut, the walls literally fell down, [End Page 282] becoming a jumbled mess of planes and angles that were used as the cliffs of Dover, Poor Tom’s hovel, and the funeral bier for Lear and Cordelia.
At the center of all this fracturing was Lear himself, the king who sets off the chain of events with his “who loves me best?” games and ultimate selfishness. McEleney’s Lear was frail from the beginning: he walked with a bow-legged limp, spoke with an old man’s quaver, and displayed signs of mental and emotional instability in the first scenes. His disappointment in Cordelia’s response led to a full-fledged, fist-shaking tantrum. When the disguised Kent beat up Oswald, Lear hopped up and down in childish glee, crying “Thou servs’t me, and I’ll love thee!” Many of the interchanges between Lear and the Fool contain jokes about foolish men—the punch line being that Lear himself is the true fool, and this production emphasized this by keeping the Fool in nearly all the later scenes, cutting “My poor Fool is hanged.” Keeping the Fool alive in the production allowed him to serve as a foil to Lear, and he displayed a gravitas that made it apparent who the actual fool was. For instance, during the storm, McEleney played up his dementia, frolicking in the rain in the nude. He got the laughs from the audience which the Fool did not, as when he hesitated before giving his dirty hand to Gloucester, stating “Let me wipe it first.” The Fool, however, remained a silent presence throughout the production, quietly tending to his master, tsking in the background during Lear’s rages, and weeping over his body in the last scene.
The production had some fantastic conceptual elements. Set in a contemporary kingdom, its costuming was...