Friday, Nov. 19, 2010

Theatre Gigante's THE LEARS

Hanging out with a King, his three daughters and a sack of potatoes

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Walking in on a Theatre Gigante production opening night is always kind of like opening a present. As the company does almost exclusively premieres of new material, one never knows what to expect.

Walking in on The Lears, the set feels like a surprisingly satisfying video installation by Iain Court. The space looks like a stylized version of the inside of someone’s head—a massive video projection of a man’s face from mid-forehead down to upper lip glances over the stage. The eyes are blue—the right one looked slightly out of focus. The eyes dart about a room.

There’s a table with a couple of chairs and corresponding microphones. There are three microphones on stands not far from them. Another mic stands at a far corner from the rest of them. And as the eyes dart about the stage, there’s a jazzy feel to the moment. Classy jazz music plays out over the speakers. When the lights dim—after a pre-recorded curtain speech, the jazz music goes live, courtesy of Percussionist Seth Warren-Crow and Sax/Flautist Aaron Gardner.

Show’s coauthor and co-artistic director Mark Anderson sits at the table with Shawn Smith. The two men narrate the basic set-up to the plot of King Lear. There’s the King plays by a rather dapper looking bearded John Kishline. His three daughters stand at the three free-standing mics. They’re played by co-author and Gigante co-founder Isabelle Kralj, Jennifer Rupp and Leslie Fitzwater.  

The post-modernist deconstruction of the classic Shakespearian tragedy plays out somewhere between video, jazz, solidly engrossing performances and a sack of potatoes. The raw, organic emotion suffers a bit in the experimentation, particularly prior to intermission, as the interaction between actors is staged to be very disjointed. Kishline does a remarkable amount with a role he’s being asked to generate with little to no direct interaction with any of the other characters in the story . . . the warmth and dynamic feel of the ensemble begins to assert itself after intermission as the direction calls for more diirect interaction between The actors.

The script cleverly and economically brings the story into a contemporary aesthetic with very current language. The dialogue is almost brilliant in places, but in keeping with the story and the overall constraints of truncated Shakespeare, there are the inevitable stretches of lifeless exposition in places. That the production is able to flit through these somewhat tedious moments gracefully says a lot about how good the cast is and how well the whole production has been staged.

Once again, Theatre Gigante puts together a delightful little one weekend theatrical dream—not quite as powerful as previous Theatre Gigante shows, but remarkably memorable nonetheless. At the center of the whole show is a genuine concern for the way society treats those under the influence of excessive amounts of time—those people who may or may not be suffering from organic brain dementia and the problems that usually go along with that. What is love and what is life and what is the meaning of it all? Theatre Gigante’s The Lears is exactly as provocative as a modern analysis of Lear should  be. This is very good theatre.  

Theatre Gigante’s The Lears runs through November 21st at Studio 508 in UWM’s Kenilworth Square East on 1925 East Kenilworth Place. For tickets,call 414-229-4308. 

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