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Power Play: KING LEAR at Shakespeare in Delaware Park – it’s family, it’s politics, it’s a buddy story.

THE BASICS: Shakespeare’s KING LEAR, presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park, directed by Steve Vaughan, runs through July 15, Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. (no performances on Mondays). Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park (856-4533). Weather cancellations will be announced on Facebook. Some food vendors, plenty of porta-potties (with handwashing stations), it’s free with a goodwill offering collected by actors at intermission, picnicking is encouraged, bring your own chair or blanket and a jacket for after sundown. Runtime: 3 hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  It’s a family drama, it’s a political thriller, it’s a “buddy/road trip” story. Old King Lear, in an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to arrange for a smooth transfer of power, has arranged to divide his kingdom among his daughters, according to how much they flatter him. Then, he plans in his retirement to spend one month with each daughter. Good luck with that. Things quickly go awry when, in a fit of pique, he disowns his youngest, Cordelia, while the other two, Regan and Goneril, immediately start plotting to reduce dear old dad to penury and worse. Meanwhile, as Lear loses his estate and his mind, Edmund, the evil bastard son of Gloucester, is plotting to take his brother Edgar’s share of their family estate. In contrast to these political maneuvers, there are sub-stories which come together in the middle as a sort of “bromance” sequence wherein five guys not named Moe –  both the banished Edgar and Lear’s loyal supporter Kent have disguised themselves as beggars, and along with, Lear, Lear’s fool, and the now blinded Gloucester –  ultimately come in from the cold for the big conclusion/showdown.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: First, those who play the “good guys.” Marissa Biondolillo is Lear’s innocent daughter Cordelia, Kevin Craig is Lear’s faithful Fool, Dave Marciniak is the loyal [Earl of] Kent, Norm Sham is the well-intentioned [Earl of] Gloucester who is blind to the trickery that turns him against his devoted “good son,” Edgar, played by Adam Yellen.

Now, on to the “bad guys.” Lisa Ludwig is Lear’s evil daughter Regan, Lisa Vitrano is her older and even more twisted sister Goneril, John Profeta is Goneril’s nasty husband [the Duke of] Cornwall, and Anthony Alcocer is Gloucester’s “bad” son, Edmund.

And, neither all “good” or all “bad” but just “human” and getting old are King Lear, played by Tom Loughlin and the level-headed [Duke of] Albany, surprisingly so since he is, after all, Goneril’s husband, played by Saul Elkin.

This is one of the strongest casts assembled for SIDP, and that’s saying something. Every performer mentioned above has recently taken a leading role in another production, often as not either Artie Award nominated or Artie winning. Therefore, I both expected and saw solid performances across the board(s).

But what I didn’t expect was the delight watching scenes with Gloucester, as played by Norm Sham, an actor whom I always associated with comic roles, such as Pseudolus in FORUM or Max Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS, or, when wearing tights in his past 7 SIDP roles, playing the likes of Sir Toby Belch or Bottom. Wow. Norm Sham can do some serious Shakespeare. Please, please, SIDP, bring him back in another juicy dramatic Shakespeare role next summer.

This is one of the strongest casts assembled for SIDP, and that’s saying something.

Quibbles and/or “bumps in the road”? I have a few. Why are the body mics at SIDP so inconsistent year after year after year? Actors Marissa Biondollilo, Adam Yellen, and Lisa Vitrano were very poorly treated by the sound crew. If it’s a bad mic, replace it. If it’s a dead spot on stage, re-block it. If it’s technical direction, read the damn script so you know whose line is next.

While generally the music seemed appropriate, there were scene changes which used something like a toy steel drum. As my Aunt Mary used to say euphemistically: “That’s just silly.”

Also, I sat on the right-hand side of the hill but it seemed that much of the action and dialog was taking place in front of the left hand side of the hill. When I go back, which I intend to (one of the great perks of Shakespeare in Delaware Park is seeing the plays twice), I will sit more to the left. End of quibbles.

So, go because this is a play you “should” see and as an educated person you know that; go because it’s ever so much more enjoyable and understandable to see Shakespeare acted in front of you as opposed to reading Shakespeare in class; go because SIDP is one of the jewels in the crown of Buffalo’s glorious summers; hell, go because it’s free; and go to hear some of those great lines, including:

“Nothing will come of nothing.”

“Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

“I am a man more sinned against than sinning.”

“As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods: They kill us for their sport.”

And, as a parent, my LEAR favorite (which used to be my father’s favorite): “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” It never gets old.

In summary, Steve Vaughan’s direction is solid, important in a play with multiple shifting loyalties and characters in disguise. In his Director’s Notes Vaughan welcomes us a fantasy world, “to LearLand in the Age of Stick,” and we are encouraged to see this play as universal, which is right, since it is more mythic and not based on historical fact. However, watching a play about a madman who demands loyalty oaths, responds to flattery instead of reason, and who treats his loyal allies like enemies and his enemies like friends, how can we believe the director when he writes: “Our play has no historical or political significance…?” Ha. Good luck with that.

UP NEXT: Shakespeare’s romantic comedy MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING July 26 through August 19, Tuesdays through Sundays also at 7:30.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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