Review: 'King Lear' at Connecticut Repertory Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear.” - George Bernard Shaw

Storrs, CT - Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) on the UConn campus in Storrs opened their 2016-2017 season with Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ at the Harriet S. Jorgenson Theatre. The production coincides with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national tour of a rare first folio that was displayed on the UConn campus through Sept. 25. Associate Artistic Director Dale AJ Rose, who has directed all but seven of Shakespeare’s works, directed this production of Shakespeare’s towering achievement that runs through Oct. 16.

The aging monarch (masterfully played by Equity actor Graeme Malcolm) resolves to retire and divide his kingdom among his three daughters. In the process his family and his country are torn apart and so begins Lear’s descent into madness. We watch as the once proud king is forced to wrestle with morality as he confronts his own mortality. 

Dramaturg Gabriella Medvick (3rd year theatre studies student) points out in her scholarly note that the word “nature” appears “more than fifty times in the play, referring both to the laws of the natural word and to the question of human essence” and notes that Lear’s world is “completely, irredeemably out of balance.” This production however, is completely balanced and to the best of my memory could rival the ‘Lear’ produced at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford that featured Morris Carnovsky in the title role. 

Equity actor Raphael Nash Thompson portrayed the faithful Earl of Gloucester but the rest of the cast are a group of very talented UConn students. To my mind, this is how a university production should be, giving theater students an opportunity to work with professional actors in rehearsal and on the stage. If well-directed, the students should blend in well with the seasoned actors as they gain experience on the stage. In this production however, the UConn performers are distinguishable only because of their youthful countenances; they are all that good.

Arlene Bozich (3rd year MFA) was a cunning Goneril, Natalia Cuevas (with many CRT credits) was the royal Regan (only once called “Ray-gen”) and Kristen Wolfe (a BFA sophomore) made her CRT debut in the role of youngest daughter Cordelia. All three gave amazingly strong performances and probably had the best costume changes of the cast. 

Michael Bobenhausen (3rd year MFA) played Albany, Darren Lee Brown (3rd year MFA) was Cornwall and a soldier, and Kent Coleman did very well in the role of his namesake Kent. Jeff DeSisto (3rd year MFA) was Oswald and a soldier. Nicholas Greika (sophomore BFA) was Cornwall’s steward and more in his CRT debut and Derrick Holmes (senior BFA) was a French captain. 

Curtis Longfellow (3rd year MFA) was scarily effective in the role of Edmund, while Scott Redmond (senior BFA) played the first knight and others. Emile Saba (3rd year graduate actor) played Burgundy, a servant and others, and Ben Senkowski (senior BFA) was France, a herald and others. Andrew Smith (BFA sophomore) made his CRT debut as Curan and others.  Bryce Wood (in the MFA Acting program) made his mark in the role of Gloucester’s only legitimate heir Edgar. Meredith Saran played the doctor and a servant. 

In the role of Fool was Ryan Shea, a senior BFA Actor from Westport. This young man made the role his own and added just a bit of comic relief to the tragical mix.

Michael Bradford introduced himself to the audience on opening night as the new Artistic Director at CRT, where he is professor of dramatic arts at UConn. Justin Graziani (senior BFA) did the excellent sound design. Pedro L. Guevara (2nd year MFA,) who designed the clean set, recently worked as a scenic artist for ‘Queens for a Year’ at Hartford stage. Equity pro Tom Kosis served as stage manager. Professor Emeritus Karen Ryker returned to CRT as the voice and text coach, while Gregory Webster was the fight choreographer, which besides the typical swordplay included the flipping of one table. Margaret Peebles, who just assisted at Hartford Stage with ‘Anastasia’ designed the perfect lighting.

I was so impressed with the costume design of Raven Ong (3rd year MFA) whose work at CRT includes ‘Spelling Bee,’ ‘Laramie Project,’ and ‘Sense & Sensibility.’ Here he further shows his versatility by putting together a magnificent wardrobe for the descent of the royals; interesting choices for hair completed the looks. Although the purple and red gowns for Goneril and Regan were beautiful to look at, the parts that presented some challenges to the actresses when they moved could have benefited from a hook and eye or two. The fog machine was used well and the strobe lights enhanced the storm scenes, making for a visually beautiful production in every way. 

Overall this was a beautiful rendering of a favorite play that aptly showed off the talents of the university students, making it well worth the long trip to their campus.

Photo courtesy of CRT