- King Lear
Upon entering the auditorium, the audience was presented with a sparse set dominated by imposing double doors upstage center. An empty red velvet throne, reminiscent of King Edward’s Chair, took center stage. The throne became a character in its own right. Brian McEleney’s Lear took self-confident possession of it as he divided the map; Christie Vela’s Goneril sat greedily on it, toying with the map pointer as she conspired with Angela Brazil’s Regan; and Lee Trull’s Edmund, cast in shadow, draped his body irreverently over the armrests during his “excellent foppery of the world” speech.
The cast used other movable properties shrewdly. In the map scene, Lear gave Regan and Goneril golden crowns while Cordelia wore her blonde hair in a long braid encircling her head, suggesting natural queen-ship. In 1.4, Lear dropped his coat and hat, assuming a servant would collect them; when the king was forced to stoop to retrieve them himself, he used the stage business to acerbically deliver the line, “who am I, sir?” Careful prop management allowed the actors to breathe new life into the familiar text.
William Lane’s costumes also established non-verbal character choices. The Fool’s golf pants evoked playfulness. Phyllis Kay’s cross-gender-cast Gloucester wore a power pantsuit, and Cordelia wore jeans and boots during Craig Handel’s stylized fight sequence. Kent’s change from suit into jeans cast him as an outsider; Edmund’s costume grew increasingly rebellious—a dapper suit at the beginning and a motorcycle jacket at the end. Though individual costumes were successful, they did not work as well in ensemble. Goneril and Regan’s gowns clashed with the 1980s pantsuit, while the men’s sleek suits and vests belonged to the twenty-first century. The costumes were perhaps most effective when actors removed [End Page 277]
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them. Edgar stripped to his underwear onstage as he fled: “Poor Tom! / That’s something yet: Edgar I nothing am.” This choice complicated the connection between authenticity and nakedness while it physicalized these textual metaphors. Edgar’s near nakedness readied the audience for Lear’s to follow.
Physically, McEleney’s Lear began with shuffling feet and grew weaker as the play went on. His Lear craved rest, unavailable once the throne was struck. Lear’s violent threats were difficult to take seriously, so McEleney opted for less obvious choices as he humanized Lear. His “call me a fool, boy?” was delivered to the Fool with a jocular fist shake. The king lovingly cajoled Goneril when he asked “are you our daughter?” This rendered his “serpent’s tooth” curse heartbreaking. When Lear turned to the audience to ask “who is it that can tell me who I am?” we became implicated in turning him out by refusing to answer. As Lear cried, “O, you are men of stones,” in his final scene, he directed the line at the audience, blaming us for our complicity.
McEleney gave Lear a trembling voice, but it was always audible over the sound effects. The sound amplified the production’s emotional crescendo. Light rolling thunder began when Lear implored, “hear, nature, hear; dear goddess, hear...