“Nothing fools you better than the lie you tell yourself.”
Shakespeare’s 2nd greatest fool seemed somewhat absent in LOFT Ensemble‘s current production of King Lear. And in fact, upon discussion and mild research, he was indeed a bit shaved from the play.
Actor Leon Mayne, whose personage fits an arguable description of the Fool as a young boy, delivered a demeanor that raposed somewhere in the middle of keen, entertaining wit and almost detached sulleness. He quite accurately in this production, is a mirror to the performance of actor Leon Russom in the title role.
Russom as Lear is guileless in his demonstration of a man realizing the quick deterioration of his own mind, standing by as if a voyeur to his own ‘play’. He is not the vain, grand-gesturing king, who openly bullies his daughters Goneril and Regan, but a defeated man, once turned out by them. Lear is genuinely shocked. His rage immediately becomes at one turn self-pity, at another spite, but most truly a man, a father, utterly lost and with much less determination to regain his status, and unable to grapple with his self-imposed circumstance. Lear’s descent into madness is vividly self-observed.
The Fool is Lear’s conscience and the pathos of the play and very much our estimate of Lear depending on the view we take of him. Mayne’s somewhat introspective delivery of the Fool, sets up an ‘all Lear all the time’ energy for the audience and the rest of the ensemble cast, ‘checking’ Lear, stepping in as Lear’s caretaker now that Cordelia (played modernly naturalistic by Marissa Galloway) is absent, and moving the narration forward much less.
Two characters solve this dilemma however. The absolutely large and driven performances of Mark Bramhall as Gloucester, and the fiery, undaunted tenor of Bruno Oliver as Kent who protect, serve and surround their king with fierce loyalty throughout the play, at great cost.
Additionally, Jon Tosetti as Albany and Bart Tangredi as Cornwall step up their performances somewhere in the middle adding punch and impact.
There are some sizzling moments in this production. The juxtaposition of Mike Mahaffey’s Edgar to Tor Jensen Brown’s Edmund is well-defined by both actors, as are the relationships by Lacy Altwine as Goneril and JoAnn Mendelson as Regan in their ambitious rivalry.
Slightly jarring is an inventive movement piece inserted into Lear’s wildest moments in the storm. A potential distraction, Russom overcomes any difficulties with focused, ‘heavyweight’ gravitas.
Overall, LOFT Ensemble’s King Lear, directed by Bree Pavey is an aspiring, very (thankfully) fast-paced, purposeful production, topped by a dramatic finale.
Fight choreography by Mike Mahaffey
Directed by Bree Pavey
With: Leon Russom, Leon Mayne, Mark Bramhall, Bruno Oliver, Lacy Altwine, JoAnn Mendelson, Marissa Galloway, Mike Mahaffey, Tor Jensen Brown, Bart Tangredi, Jon Tosetti, Matt Gorkis, Sondra Mayer, Daye Anne Hutton, Mikaela Moody, Daniel Joo, Jefferson, Marian Gonzalez and Chris Haas.