Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lear, Big Bird, and the Kardashians

Single Carrot Theatre's production of Lear tackles an unwieldy property---to put it lightly.  Young Jean Lee's avant-garde play loosely borrows from Shakespeare's King Lear.  The three Lear daughters (Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril) and the two Gloucester sons (Edgar and Edmund) are still intact but they have changed.  Their self-absorbed speeches sound more like the Kardsashians trying to pick out another bauble for their ungainly wigs.  Their non-sequiturs sound more like Gracie Allen on speed.  The fun is complicated as the vaguely Tudor romp turns into a visit from Big Bird facing the fact of death of his father-figure in the beloved PBS series.  The wheel turns again as the play closes with a tear-stained monologue from a mysterious, contemporary everyman lamenting the death of his own father.

Despite the absurdity of the rhetoric and the action, the play maintains a surprising unity.  It's all about the death of the father, whether it's the heroic ancient father (Lear), the comforting surrogate television father, or the deeply missed actual father who will never return.

Director Andrew Peters expertly manages the play's abrupt changes in tone and plot.  The script's sudden swerves in mood from burlesque to elegy could easily result in breakdown.  The cast (Surasree Das, Paul Diem, Tim German, Chloe Mikala, Elizabeth Ling) also makes convincing transitions from the opening satirical cartoon of self-absorbed adolescents fresh from a series of murders to decent, everyday neighbors ready to show compassion for the bereaved Big Bird and the grief-stricken guy next door.  The extraordinary scenic design (Allison Campbell), costume design (Nicki Seibert), and sound design (Connor Ciesil) give the entire playing area an ominous, dream-like aura perfectly suited to this exercise in the surreal.



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