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The Fool’s Lear

This streamlined adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy is well-played and inventively staged but doesn’t really fulfill its aim of offering a fresh new take.

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Judy Krause in a scene from in “The Fool’s Lear” (Photo credit: Ruth Guimera)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]Billed as a retelling of King Lear from the Fool’s perspective,” The Fool’s Lear is a streamlined adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy lasting two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission. It’s well-played and inventively staged but doesn’t really fulfill its aim of presenting a fresh “Brechtian” take on the tale. It’s a King Lear-lite that makes for a fitfully compelling experience amidst the accomplished small-scale pageantry.

The division of the kingdom, the storm, Gloucester’s blinding, the wandering and later cradling of the dead Cordelia are crisply enacted. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” is uttered.  H. Clark Kee’s condensation is artfully faithful but the excisions and inclusions don’t quite jell into a riveting narrative.

Mr. Kee’s commendable direction employs just four chairs onstage that get rearranged and a centerstage white background curtain on which appropriately baronial interior and forestial exterior images are projected. These devices achieve a number of wonderful stage pictures and tableaus. The 13 scenes flow fluidly from one to another at a measured pace. The cast has unity and offers sterling performances.

Annie Winneg, Mike Roche, Elizabeth A. Bell, Robert G. McKay, Mark Peters, Brian Heuer, Sean Demers, Virginia Armitage and Joe Penczak in a scene from in “The Fool’s Lear” (Photo credit: Ruth Guimera)

Whether being pushed in a wheelchair or hobbling around on a cane, Mark Peters is an excellent Lear. Mr. Peters forcefully captures all of the character’s pathos, humor and despair with his mature presence and rich vocal delivery. As The Fool, Judy Krause’s clowning and feistiness is delightful. Ms. Krause and Mr. Peters’ marvelous rapport energize the production, hinting at the tantalizing possibilities of an even further stripped down treatment focusing more on these two characters.

Robert McKay’s Gloucester has a folksy dignity. Annie Winneg is an appealing Cordelia. Elizabeth A. Bell and Virginia Armitage each bring the requisite villainous hauteur to the roles of Goneril and Regan, respectively. The rest of the company all make an impact and is comprised of Sean Demers as Cornwall, Brian Heuer as Edmund, Joe Penczak as Kent, Fariaz Rabbani as Edgar and Mike Roche as Albany.

Lighting designer Elizabeth M. Stewart creates a charged atmosphere with her striking efforts. Blaring trumpets, battle sounds and other effects are perfectly rendered by Ostinato Productions’ sound design. The  visually striking costume design by Audrey Lavine (uncredited in the program) relies on a lot of color-coordinated flowing tattered cloth and fun hats for The Fool.

The Fool’s Lear is a worthy incarnation of this difficult piece that could satisfy King Lear completists and enlighten first-timers.

The Fool’s Lear (through January 26, 2019)

Oldest Boys Productions in association with Accidental Repertory Theater

IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call  800-838-3006 or visit

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission

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