All the world's a stage

To end its 2007-08 season, the Vermont Stage Company chose Shakespeares King Lear, a story that has been popular for centuries. Shakespeare also has a shadow-subplot in the dealings between Gloucester and his two sons. In both the main plot and the subplot, parents are deceived by their children upon whom they have showered all their goods (the parallel with Gloucester is not absolute: it is the fact that Edmund was illegitimate that drives the subplot). What Vermont Stage has brought to us is a fully scored play (music by Brian Johnson, who performs the compelling, propulsive score live), with all the pitfalls that scoring can bring. Pitfall number one (in this case) is that most of the play would be as flaccid as cooked spaghetti without the score. Shakespeares words words which injure and damage are relentless and do not in the mouths of many of these actors, propel anything. One point that advance promotion for the production did make good: the contention that it need not be a play played out on a vast scale. Aided and abetted by Johnsons musical score, the performance succeeded on this isolated point. The score quite literally bathed the audience in the violence of the actions of nature and of man. Several actors matched their performances to the effectiveness of the score. Paul Schnabel, the Earl of Kent, gave the most consistently engaged performance. Todd Lawson, the Edmund, also felt the persistent drive of the score, but he never abated the violence of his presence, until the violence wanted our sympathies with the character. Christopher V. Edwards, who had the role of Edgar, the legitimate son, created a bookish, somewhat disdainful character that is until he has to save his own life. The Earl of Gloucester (Kent Cassella) is quite a sympathetic character, but Cassella doesn't give himself the full measure of his lines. Melissa S. Lourie and Jennifer M. Rohn were credible as Goneril and Regan, but never rose to any emotional heights. Heather Nielsen, Cordelia, was not the limpid beauty, although she is beautiful; she built a rather physically gutsier character, replete with a costume that deprived her of a great deal of her femininity in the final scenes. And what about Lear (Donald Grody) and his Fool (Andrew Sellon)? Lear and his actions drive much of the drama, yet not this Lear. He never touched me. I felt no pity for him, because he did not engender it in me. The Fool, a foil for the King, has very little to be foil to. His costumes did not help either without a stronger Lear, the actor playing the Fool is the conscience of a nonexistent being, and I am afraid thats what happened. The other difficulty for the production seemed to be insufficient rehearsal time, for there were quite a few line muffs, too many to attribute them to the opening night jitters. Choice of costumes was spotty: for some characters it worked, for others it did not. The cutting seemed judicious, so the fault was not there. Maybe by the time you see it, the production will have gelled and the actors will have begun to think of the interplay of their characters and will have instilled some rubato into the breakneck speed of their speeches, and the cast will begin playing off one another as well as the score. Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for the Times Sentinel. His column appears weekly.

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