Shakespeare’s King Lear is a monumental play. But one major obstacle to mounting a good production of Lear is to have an actor that is believable as an older man, but who still has the stamina to last through a three-hour show night after night. There have been attempts to use younger actors – Olivier for example played the role in his twenties, but said he didn’t understand it until his seventies.
Richmond has been lucky these past several years to have had many fine actors grace our stages, and few have been as universally admired as Joe Inscoe. Inscoe has taken on many of the great roles in and near our fair city, but he had only done one previous Shakespeare production. Now after contemplating retirement, he has returned with a triumphant encore in this production being presented by Quill Theatre.
King Lear is being presented in the Leslie Cheek Theatre inside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and as you descend into the area of the theatre, you can’t help but be affected by the beautiful art and antiquities that surround you. Once inside you are presented with Tennessee Dixon’s towering set of stones, marsh, and open spaces.
Aside from Inscoe’s performance (which is enough to go see the production), other key performers are Bianca Bryan (total transparency, she is an employee of 88.9 WCVE) and Molly Hood as Goneril and Regan, Lear’s two daughters who become corrupted by power. Also Irene Kuykendall turns in a strong effort as Cordelia – the youngest daughter who is shunned by Lear and later rescues him, only to eventually be destroyed herself.
In the pivotal roles of Gloucester and Edgar, Joe Pabst and David Janosik bring dignity to the characters. Janosik’s physical mannerisms during his Old Tom persona are fascinating and Pabst’s physical discomfort during the violent act (which was brilliantly handled by Fight Choreographer Foster Solomon) was palpable and moving.
Jay O. Millman and Matthew Radford Davies bring quiet dignity to the roles of the Dukes of Albany and Kent respectively. Both roles can be lost behind the fireworks of the leads but are very important to the world of the play.
One performance that stood out for me, was Axle Burtness as the swashbuckling villain Edmund, whose lust for power and identity drives his Machiavellian approach to family. Burtness gives an electrifying performance and his duel with Janosik is a highlight.
Director Dr. Jan Powell used a different approach to her interpretation of The Fool and split the role between John Mincks and Killian Winn. Micks is a perfect choice for the physical and verbal demands of the role and Winn matched him crack for crack throughout the show.
Thomas Hammond’s costumes are beautiful when they need to be and filthy with they have to be. BJ Wilkinson’s lights are very good and Roger Price’s sound design is truly inspired. Iscoe’s performance during the storm scene was elevated greatly by their work.
King Lear is a wonderful production and is performed on one of the premiere stages in the area. You would be as foolish as both of Lear’s fools to miss this one.
For 88.9 WCVE, I’m John Porter.