When it comes to Shakespeare being acted by local community theaters it can be a slippery slope especially if the play is King Lear. However, the Olmsted Performing Arts production manages to pull off a pretty darn good rendition of this Shakespearian classic in spite of a few shortcomings.
The play follows the spiraling out of control life of King Lear who in reaching old age decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia after they have a “contest” on who can declare their love for the monarch the best. Goneril and Regan give lip service while Cordelia tells what is in her heart which enrages the king who banishes her. It is a play that emphasizes how misunderstandings among family members can lead to eventual tragedy and how treachery and loyalty are in a constant sustained battle for dominance.
On the plus side for the OPA production is King Lear (played by J. Michael Jacobs) a veteran actor of local fame. He manages through the play to show the entire range of emotions, fears and voices of a man slowly going mad. His run throughs as a man off his nut add a bit of comic relief while at the same time making us realize his plight. Also, most notable is his poignant portrayal in Act 4; Scene 7 when King Lear is reunited with Cordelia. It is pure Shakespeare at its best. That scene alone is worth the price of the ticket.
Another nice surprise is Michael Christescu as Edgar who is tricked by his brother, Edmund (well played by Mike Lovell), to go into hiding and assumes the disguise of a crazy beggar. The role requires an entire range of emotions that Michael has managed to master on stage. Rounding out this trio is The Earl of Gloucester played by Ken Cavanaugh who claims to not have acted since the age of seven. His portrayal of the loyal nobleman who risks everything to save the king only to lose his sight in the bargain is solid and profound. My only suggestion to him is that in Act 4; Scene 6 when he is “jumping” off a non-existent cliff, having been tricked by his son, Edgar who is trying to save him, is not to look down. A blinded man would look outward but never down. It is a habit of the sighted.
Now for the negatives, as few as there are. To begin with, the time setting for this version of King Lear is set in 1938, New York City during the gang wars. For me, other than the costumes, there was never really a connection between the time period and the play. The sets hinted at the time period but did not fully establish it. Perhaps instead of knife fights, they could have shootouts instead. The guns firing would have given some more life to the play.
On the quality of the acting I need to say that in all theater (community and professional) there are actors and performers. One of the drawbacks to a Shakespearian work is that it is difficult not to recite the lines as you would to a high school class rather than perform them. With King Lear, Edmund, Edgar and the Earl of Gloucester I believed they were who they said they were on stage. There was real emotion in their voices. As to the rest of the cast, while there were moments of performing, it was interspersed with spells of recitative acting with the actors facing each other.
This led to another problem and that was the projection of voices. At times with the actors facing each other the vocabulary would shoot off into the wings and be lost to the crowd. A trick used by thespians since the time of the Globe was to off look the other actor at a 45˚ angle thus sending their voice out to the audience. Of the eighteen actors in the production, only one (Edmund) was miked (due to a recent rib injury). With a stage this large in such a large auditorium, it might have been a good idea to mike the entire cast. On the plus side, I noticed very few flubs during the performance. What few there were consisted of “word over-run” where the recitation outran the voice.
There also seemed to be a problem of the stage itself. In the beginning of the play, it was very evident whenever anyone walked across the stage. There was a lot of click and clacking going on. The actors soon realized this and began walking softer but this made their movements look unnatural. Another solution would have been to glue rough cardboard or thin felt to the soles and heels of the shoes.
Lastly, the fight scenes…the trick here is to make the fight look like it is not rehearsed or choreographed. This takes lots of rehearsal and choreographing to achieve this. Just a little more practice time would help the scenes look more natural.
All in all, considering the degree of difficulty and challenges that this play has, it was a fine performance overall. The lighting was well done and the simple stage props did not take away from the production, but enhanced it. Costuming was well done for the period represented. I would especially recommend seeing this play to theater majors and acting students in general. As they say, you can not consider yourself a true actor until you have done Shakespeare.
This is also a great way to get out of the house in March and see a good live performance without breaking the bank. You will also be supporting the arts in a local grassroots level. Most great actors of today say they got their start in Community Theater. It is through your support in buying tickets that this can happen.
I give this production a solid four stars. It has moments of greatness that can still be developed in the remaining performances. There are three more performances for the play at the Olmsted Performing Arts new spacious home located at 6941 Columbia Road • Olmsted Falls • Ohio • 44138 and they are:
March 15th at 7:00 PM
March 16th at 2:00 PM
March 16th at 7:00 PM
J. Michael Jacobs, King Lear; Kayla McDonald, Fool; Bailey Hyde, King of France/Ensemble; Tony Anselmo, Duke of Cornwall; Morgan Haviland, Oswald; Tom Clark, Duke of Burgandy/1st Captain/Ensemble; Ken Cavanaugh, Earl of Gloucester; Hillary Wheelock, Goneril; Grace Horvath, Curan/Ensemble; Mike Lovell, Edmond; Jacquelyn Mouritsen, Regan; Allison Knaggs, Messenger/Ensemble; Michael Christescu, Edgar; Tessa Hongosh, Cordelia; Adam Reebel, Attendant/Ensemble; Tom Boehm, Earl of Kent; Michael Strama, Duke of Albany and Kevin Napier, Attendant/Ensemble.
Christina Haviland and Lawrence Wallace, directors; Kristin Ferrell, Crew Chief; Gina Glazer and Cathy Hongosh, Front of the House; Bob Foraker, technical Director; Marissa Mullner, Asst. Scenic Artist; Jessica Cameron, Office Administration; Erin Riffle, Stage Manager; Karen Klecan and Jane Christyson, Costume Designers; Jacquelynn Hongosh, Webmaster; Aaron Holsopple, Lighting Engineer; Sandy Poyle, Properties Manager; Sharon Knaggs, Marketing; Dawn Hyde, Sound Engineers; Josh Landis and Maxwell Miller, Fight Choreographers and Angela Boehm, Producer.
Reservations are available now! Get your tickets by calling (440) 235-6722! Tickets are $15 and include a beverage of choice; seating is limited.