September 25, 2008

Production of ‘King Lear’ Looks Good, but Light on Substance




The Nevada Conservatory Theatre's "King Lear" is a good-looking production. But good looks only get you so far.

Director Michael Lugering gives Shakespeare's brutal tragedy not only a modern aura, but a fascinatingly fascist one. When we first enter the theater, we're met by a plain, vertical platform that hosts high up a single upholstered chair that likewise sits vertically.

We feel as if we've walked into an upside down world. John Santangelo's design gives us a couple of other oddly placed platforms, and a series of projections that add flavor (rather than repetition) to the action. He succeeds in throwing us into the atmosphere of this specific story. Judy Ryerson's costumes create a cold, fanatical world, with lots of dark, dangerous solid colors (highlighting leather hats, berets, knee-high boots) contrasted with intentionally ridiculously loud busy patterns that one can imagine only in make-believe land.

Lugering's sharp pacing and use of threatening, musical sounds go a long way in infusing an enjoyably nightmare feel.

Less admirable is Lugering's decision to keep the action at an emotional distance.

During the most climatic scenes, he tends to break away to give us startling lighting effects (well-designed by Christopher Trevino) or musical interludes. This is a legitimate, Brechtian way of telling certain types of stories, but I'm not sure it's appropriate for "Lear." This tale about a proud man who turns his back on the only daughter who loves him is about as human a story as you can get. Why dilute its power with distancing devices?

Lear needs to be played by a powerhouse performer who can shake the skies. How else can we be moved by his humiliations? Phil Hubbard is a pleasing, lightweight actor who keeps everything on the surface. He indicates anger by posing with contorted nostrils and lips. The evil daughters (Jaime Puckett and Savannah Smith) slither so venomously that they make Road Runner villains seem realistic. Rebecca Reyes, as the good daughter, is such a bland Girl Scout that she barely registers. Curiously, the good son

Edgar (Rob Bartusch) spends part of the evening in bikini briefs. He does register. And when he puts on a sweatshirt, he makes sure the zipper is low enough to expose his chest. Lugering's treatment of Bartusch as a boy toy reinforces the suspicion that the director thinks "look" is everything. It's unfortunate because while fascist chic and bare chests can be likable eye candy, they're no substitute for the joy in the depth of one of the most touching human journeys ever put on a stage.


What: "King Lear"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Black Box Theatre, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland


Tickets: $15 (895-2787)

Grade: C-

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