By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
A powerful king (Jeffrey Carpenter) gradually descends into madness when he realizes he’s sold off his kingdom to two of his ungrateful daughters, and rejected the only child who ever loved him in William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”
King Lear’s entrance is full of pomp and circumstance. It’s a moment of pageantry and celebration. The king wishes to divide his kingdom into three equal parts, a section for each of his three daughters, Goneril (Lissa Brennan), Regan (Dana Hardy) and Cordelia (Catherine Gowl). Goneril assails her father with pithy praises. Regan tries to outdo her older sister. The youngest daughter, Cordelia, sees no reason to lavish her father with pretty words. She believes her actions speak for her. Alas, they do not. Lear flies into a rage and cuts Cordelia out of the will.
Only an unhinged leader needs to hear constant praise.
When the Earl of Kent (Monteze Freeland) tries to defend Cordelia, he, too, is banished.
Lear presents Cordelia to her two suitors, the Duke of Burgundy (Jessie Wray Goodman) and the King of France (Tami Dixon). Burgundy rejects her when he learns that she is no longer an heiress, but France’s king embraces her for her honesty.
Meanwhile, Edmund (Joseph McGranaghan) conspires against his brother, Edgar (Connor McCanlus) and his father, the Earl of Gloucester (Ken Bolden), because he is illegitimate and unable to ascend to a higher status.
All of the political backstabbing takes its toll. All of the ne’er do wells conspire against each other. Things do not end well.
All of the action takes place under the rusty spires of the dilapidated and decaying Carrie Blast Furnace.
Every element of the show is perfect, the cast, the props, the costumes, even the natural elements of wind, rain and bracing cold seemed perfect for this production. Lear rails against the weather (Act III, Scene II) in his famous speech wherein he commands the winds to blow and the thunderbolts to singe his head.
Director Risher Reddick manages to get some beautiful performances from some of Pittsburgh’s best actors.
Carpenter is magnificent as Lear. From his extravagant entrance to the final tragic lines, he embodies the unhinged king with maximum gravitas.
Dixon plays several parts, but none are more memorable than the role of Lear’s fool. There’s actually a lot of humor in this tragedy, and Dixon is responsible for the lion’s share.
There are some darkly comic moments with Bolden and McCanlus. The blind Duke of Gloucester is being led around by his son Edgar – but the young man has disguised his voice to sound like the village idiot.
Brennan’s Goneril is perfectly vicious as is Hardy’s Regan.
McGranaghan’s Edmund is a likable rogue. It’s easy to see why the two hateful sisters fall for his wit and charm.
Gowl is a fierce Cordelia, beautiful and powerful – the woman who should be Queen.
Freeland’s Kent is the lone voice of reason throughout the play. He does a magnificent job.
Scenic Designer Tony Ferrieri creates odd beauty among the rusted hulks of metal.
Susan Tsu’s costumes astonish, especially Lear’s majestic cape.
There’s also some terrific fight choreography by Randy Kovitz with assistance from Michael Petyak.
“King Lear” has never been more majestic.
“King Lear” can be found at the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark, Carrie Furnace Blvd, Swissvale PA 15218. For more information, click here.