In a body of work that stands at the pinnacle of the theatre, King Lear towers above the rest for its perfection of dramatic architecture, the reiterative power that results from this structure and the powerful personalities that populate it.
With the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's current production, director Elizabeth Huddle pays obeisance to this immortal recipe by beginning the play with the actors preparing themselves, drawing our attention to the subtext of her casting and to tension that her choices create in the course of the drama.
Raye Birk, a former leading actor with the American Conservatory Theatre and veteran of regional theatre, television and film, handles the demands of Lear with aplomb, from the arrogant and angry rumbles of a reigning monarch through the hurricane of his exiled madness to the devastating clarity and stillness of his twilight.
According to the form of the day, Lear as King is divine and, as such, inhabits a world that reflects his being. Closest to his heart are Cordelia and Fool. In Huddle's casting, Andrew Wasyleczko does double duty as both Cordelia, Lear's truthful but maligned youngest daughter, and Fool, the King's loyal but searing wit. Wasyleczko's range is remarkable from the ethereal and pristine airs of a feminine idealist to the convoluted and dark truth of the vituperative satirist.
Lear's emotional blindness and division is reflected as well in Gloucester, who is blinded in fact. Dennis Elkins' Gloucester is, as intended, a consistent echo of Lear's plight, inexplicably dismissing his life long affinity to his rightful heir, which sets in motion his own exile and bittersweet reunion.
Finally, as Lear's ambitious daughters, Regan and Goneril, Sarah Lauren Fallon and Candace Taylor are formidably haughty and self-centered mirrors of the once authoritarian Lear himself, while James Beneducci and Stafford Clark-Price offer well drawn portraits of ambition and temperance as their husbands, the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany.
Though the legend of King Lear is based on a true story, the playwright is unconstrained by the facts as he is in his histories and is thus freed to elevate the piece into an artistic statement that blossoms into his greatest tragedy. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production is a formidable interpretation of this masterpiece. It runs in repertory with Two Gentlemen of Verona, Queen Margaret (an adaptation of Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III), and As You Like It through August 18th. 303-492-0554.