There is so much about this performance that you have to imagine. The story and the text is all there, but this special rendition of King Lear brings 2022 technology into Shakespeare space. Who knew that you could do selfies and videos taken off of cell phones as part of this very inventive production. Then there is the acting, really master class for acting students and anyone interested in the thespian universe. What more is there to say, just go and see it you too will be just amazed at how far these wonderful inventive producers and directors can take this normally depressing story.
And did I mention the acting, especially Joe Morton, wow – the second act he blows the roof off of the joint, he is just that great. Joe does a great job as bringing his comic spryness, playing him not as a doddering old man but as a vivacious, engaging jokester who expects to be treated as the life of the party. He is a force to be reckoned with, he just finished his award-winning, sold-out performance as Dick Gregory in Turn Me Loose, and Joe Morton (ABC’s “Scandal,” the legendary Brother from Another Planet, Netflix’s “The Politician”).
This radical reinvention of Shakespeare’s greatest play explores questions of truth, love and power, and offers a glimpse of redemption. A typical story in our modern day and age, his cruel daughters turn on him after obtaining their inheritance, he becomes vindictive, then turns into a spiteful entitled abstinent shadow of a man. But he was so convincing for me, I just relished in every movement, every word, especially when he engaged with the audience, what a performance. I also really loved River Gallo’s performance, a nonbinary actor who uses the pronouns they/them, plays both Cordelia and the Fool.
By William Shakespeare
Starring Joe Morton
Directed by John Gould Rubin
Joe Morton as King Lear
Brie Eley as Regan
River Gallo as Cordelia / Fool
Mark Harelik as Gloucester
Rafael Jordan as Edmund
Zachary Solomon as Edgar / France
Emily Swallow as Goneril
Stanley Andrew Jackson III – understudy for Edgar/France and Edmund
Miguel Perez – understudy for Lear & Gloucester
Danielle Thorpe – understudy for Goneril, Regan & Cordelia/Fool
Composition/Sound Design by Danny Erdberg and Ursala Kwong-Brown reinforce and masterfully transition the emotional impact of the scenes. The contemporary costume design by Deborah Hartwell reminds us of where and when we are, and the video projection by Keith Skretch makes this a unique and compelling production to experience. There are scenes of devastating floods and fires flash onto two rectangular video panels that face each other from opposite sides of the stage. The production transports us to a modern age in which texting and video calling are standard forms of communication, but there’s something superficial in the appeal to relevance.
The story line shows the violent power struggles within a dysfunctional extended family. Lear demands the love of his three daughters as he decides how to divide his kingdom amongst them and Lear’s loyal courtier Gloucester grapples with his two feuding sons. Rafael Jordan as the scheming Edmund, commands the stage offering powerful soliloquies and Zachary Solomon as Edgar. Brie Eley is flirtatious yet ruthless as the jealous Regan and Emily Swallow portrays an aggressive and treacherous Goneril as she takes on Lear’s emotional and physical abuse. Mark Harelik rounds out the cast as the embodiment of the white-bearded loving, superstitious and clueless, Glouester.
There are also bleachers constructed towards the back of the stage, where audience members can choose to sit, and the stage is set with banquet tables. Christopher Barreca’s scenic design, sharpened into focus by Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting, is organized around a set of banquet tables that, by the end, are flipped over, with their contents strewn across the floor. The whole production is very simple, but in the best way. By the final act, Keith Skretch’s projections are flashing imagery directly onto the audience, a section of which is seated behind the set. Pillars of video screens on either side of the stage project images of storms, forest fires, tidal ways, and desolate landscapes. One of the standout feature’s is the productions innovative use of cell phones to capture live video close-ups of each other as well as to project revealing text messages between characters.
About The Wallis:
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is a dynamic cultural hub and community resource where local, national and international artists share their artistry with ever-expanding audiences. The campus, located in the heart of Beverly Hills, CA, is committed to robust and distinctive presentations and education programs curated with both creativity and social impact in mind.
Distinguished by its eclectic programming that mirrors the diverse landscape of Los Angeles and its location in the entertainment capital of the world, The Wallis has produced and presented more than 275 dance, theater, opera, classical music, cinema and family programs since its doors opened in October 2013. Hailed as “au courant” (LaLa Magazine), The Wallis was lauded by Culture Vulture, which proclaims, “If you love expecting the unexpected in the performing arts, you have to love The Wallis.” Its programming has been nominated for 48 Ovation Awards and seven L.A. Drama Critic’s Circle Awards. The campus itself, a breathtaking 70,000-square-foot facility, celebrating the classic and the modern, has garnered six architectural awards.
Designed by acclaimed architect Zoltan E. Pali, the restored building features the original 1933 Beverly Hills Post Office (on the National Register of Historic Places), which serves as the theater’s dramatic yet welcoming lobby, and includes the contemporary 500-seat, state-of-the-art Bram Goldsmith Theater; the 150-seat Lovelace Studio Theater; an inviting open-air plaza for family, community and other performances; and GRoW @ The Wallis: A Space for Arts Education, where learning opportunities for all ages and backgrounds abound. Together, these elements embrace the city’s history and its future, creating a performing arts destination for L.A.- area visitors and residents alike.
I know some of the reviews have not been too noteworthy, but my own experience was that this is a production not to be missed. It is just so creative and fresh that anyone would say, you really need to witness this new production of King Lear!!!
King Lear’s running time is 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission. King Lear runs through June 5 at The Wallis in Beverly Hills.
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
* Note some content was taken off of their website.