The story goes that Richard Burton spent part of the last years of his life trying to summon the courage to play the lead in King Lear. Don't know if that is true, but I can well believe it. One of the most powerful and challenging of Shakespeare's plays, the layers and complexities of it easily rival Hamlet.
Essentially the plot deals with a very old, formerly great and powerful monarch (Ari Agabian) who has no sons. He determines to divide his realm between his three daughters, thus avoiding possible conflicts in the future. That he imagines this would somehow work is one of many reasons to suppose he is not the man he once was. Even more worryingly he asks his daughters to say how much they love him before he doles out their inheritances. Of course his two eldest Goneril (Aura Rico) and Regan (Jessica Wienecke) begin to lay down the flattery for all they are worth, while the youngest Cordelia (Jahnavi Aithal) insists on saying she loves her father, but hopes to also love her husband. Enraged, Lear disinherits his hitherto favorite, bidding her two suitors the Duke of Burgundy (Ryan Hollow) or the King of France (Bobby Brodney) take her sans any dowry. The latter, interestingly, is perfectly willing to do so.
And the instant Lear's back is turned, Goneril and Regan note how unstable the old man is. They needs must protect themselves from him, pledging to be allies.
Parallel to all this is the Earl of Gloucester (Eduardo Mora) with his two sons--the elder, legitimate Edgar (Rafael Hernandez Roulet), and younger bastard Edmund (Erin Manker). This last--one of Shakespeare's truly great villains--decides to frame his brother, in the end forcing him into exile. This he swiftly accomplishes, not least due to their father's gullibility. In fact, as the play proceeds, eventually both the older royal sisters fall out in part because they both want Edmund for themselves!
I have seen over a dozen productions of this play, and to get all the dramatic lined up in a successful row is very rare. So that this one has it flaws is hardly unusual. Some extremely high end such have had them. I would note only a very few real problems here. The stage combat is not very good. A couple of actors seem not to understand their roles at all, at least imho. One or two costumes or blocking choices made me go "huh???"
But I would rather note that this production has one of the best Edmunds I have ever seen, and also the director Holly LeVeque had a hand in this--especially the "eye" scene. The moment when the Duke of Cornwall (Andres Tyrell-Smith) actually flirts with Edmund proved startling and delightful--but then the villains are so often the most fun to play as well as watch. The Duke is husband to Regan, and they seem well matched in casual cruelty. Lear himself seems a bit young for the part, but he listens and reacts with a genuine intensity that works very well overall.
Most importantly, the audience was rivetted, and I'm more than happy to note that it was clear the cast understood their lines and sought to genuinely speak them as part of the action (I have seen plenty of Lears where actors pretended, and it was obvious--just as it was cringeworthy). This production grabs your attention and keeps it. Few things bore me faster than Shakespeare done by those who have zero clue or refuse to dive into the actual drama (or comedy) of the text.
King Lear at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company has four more performances--Saturday March 4 at 8pm, Sunday March 5 at 2pm, then Friday March 10 and Saturday March 11 at 8pm at the Helen Borgers Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach CA 90807