"Vote for King Lear!"
Wait a minute, did I miss something? Maybe the signs mean "King" as in "Kingfish." In any case, Shakespeare's great tragedy about a vain old monarch's fatal mistake is getting a thrilling reimagining at the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane.
The confusion of feudalism and democracy results partly from the decision to move a 17th-century play to 1950s Louisiana. Frankly, however, the original has more than enough razzmatazz to confuse the most clear-minded observer. At the drop of a hat, characters disguise themselves and go unrecognized as they maneuver other characters through the story. King Lear isn't an ancient Greek tragedy with that complex simplicity we've come to call classicism; it's as baroque as a telenovela.
Essentially, however, director James Fitzmorris assembled an excellent cast and put them through their paces boldly. Ron Gural (pictured, left), whom we have seen in so many fine performances, brings Lear to life not as a feeble geriatric, but a rough, tough old coot who loses control.
This icon of self-deception intends to divide his kingdom equally among his three daughters, but insists they profess their love for him first, in the hope of increasing their portions. Daughters Regan (Trina Beck) and Goneril (Rebecca Frank) lay on the flattery, but favorite daughter Cordelia (Ashley Ricord) can't bear the charade and refuses to speak. In a fury, Lear disowns her. Fortunately, the king of France (Dave Davis) is so taken with her, he asks for her hand, despite her shame. They leave the country together.
That's the setup. Everything else (and there is much else) plays out in subplots galore. The most striking has to do with Lord Gloucester (George J. Sanchez) and his sons, the legitimate Edgar (Drew Battles) and the bastard Edmund (a chic, sinister Michael Aaron Santos).
Only the king's fool seems to understand the trouble his master has gotten himself into. The always impressive Harold X. Evans (pictured, right) plays the Fool, and because Evans is African-American, the 1950s setting adds special resonance to some of the Elizabethan language, like when the king affectionately calls his fool "boy."
As the plot enters its final downward spiral, the cast rises to the play's demands; you leave the theater staggered.
A quick congratulations to some of the players I haven't mentioned: Martin Covert, Jackson Townsend, A. J. Allegra and Samuel William Repshas. David Raphel designed the haunting (but not overly gothic) mausoleum-like setting and Cecile Casey Covert the costumes. — Dalt Wonk
7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat., June 10-13
The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, Tulane University, Lupin Theatre, 865-5105; www.neworleansshakespeare.com