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Long Live the King

King Lear at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival

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This seems to have been the year the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival became a Certs commercial by crafting two genres in one. After the mix of farce and furor in As You Like It comes the black comedy and intense tragedy of King Lear.

Directed by Bruce Levitt, Lear is set gratuitously in the 1920s and played as an Aaron Spelling prime time soap, where a family with three daughters is pitted against one with two sons -- a son-and-a-half really, as Edmond is illegitimate. Edmond relishes his outsider status, especially in his "stand up for bastards" speech. And as delivered with a dash of arrogance by the talented Chad Jason Scheppner, it's the best soliloquy of the festival.

The Roaring Twenties ambience hardly whimpers; it's used to stage a tango and get a gun in the action, but that's about it. The anachronisms spiral out of control when a chair is brought out for a weary Lear that is one of those canvas fold-ups being sold by your neighborhood Kmart. Is this some inside joke or sheer laziness?

Some have found Gary Neal Johnson in the title role a virtual locomotive; all I saw was the steam. His relentless tirades in the first act brought a perpetual bulging vein to his brow that should concern his general practitioner. But once he turned his burner from a boil to a simmer, there was more success to witness.

King Lear
through July 15
at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
Southmoreland Park, 47th and Oak streets
806-889-7827, ext. 5011

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