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Vanderway's Lear electrifying

KING LEAR

Starring Joseph L. Vanderway '89

as King Lear.

The Shakespeare Ensemble at MIT.

Directed by Bruce Shapiro.

Sala de Puerto Rico.

March 15-18 & 22-24.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

JOSEPH L. VANDERWAY '89 is an electrifying Lear. It's a part that demands extraordinary concentration and, on opening night yesterday, Vanderway's energy never flagged. The characterization grew during the evening, building in power as if ever by fate directed towards the horrific conclusion, with the King's will as expired as the life of his daughter, limp as she is in his arms.

Who is this Lear? Vanderway's Lear starts out as a confused and senile man, but never without a spark of command. Vanderway's expressions speak of a clinging-on to a past that has gone. His Lear simultaneously displays kingliness and frailty: he hands out directives, but fumbles. He holds his arm at his side in a gesture of authority, but holding his side for support, a sign of weakness. Vanderway captures the rage and the fear and the impossibility of Lear holding on to a sanity that disappears before our eyes.

Vanderway puts Lear at a distance -- he stands aloof from people, and from reality, but warmth does develop towards the end -- as fate approaches. His later meeting with Cordelia is poignant. And as Lear's sanity disappears down a tunnel, his humanity re-emerges to be displayed in Cordelia's death and, from the grief of that death, in his own.

It is hard enough to paint Lear strongly in one dimension; Vanderway's achievement is in leaving the audience impressed with the complexity of the character, and pondering the fate of his soul.

Greg Swieringa '91 is a larger-than-life Edgar, especially vigorous when in disguise as "Mad Tom," a perfect soul-mate to the wasting Lear as, almost naked, he rages about the stage.

If one criticism of this production is that it really runs too fast (making it easy for people like your feeble-minded critic to get lost: For complex Shakespearean plays, as with opera, a synopsis should also really be provided in the program!), one of its most impressive aspects is the rare clarity of diction shown by all the characters.

Even in his darkest madness, not a word of Vanderway's Lear is lost. Bronwyn Barish G -- as the Fool -- and Brecht Isbell '90 -- as Edmund -- were, however, especially notable in this regard. Isbell molded his every word, and delivered each one with a sting. Not only was his body ever arched with jealousy, his tongue spouted bile with undisguised hatred and a single-minded hold on Edmund's will to conquer.

Barish was in many ways the most Shakespearean of all. Her verse flowed smoothly, the nuances in the text nicely highlighted and decorated. The Fool's prophesy was delivered especially suavely. Barish is witty and catching with her serpentine-sensual body movement yet, as the ideal Shakespearean fool, in her jest she points at tragedy. A wonderful portrayal.

The three daughters were all acted convincingly, the Goneril of Lindasusan Ulrich '91 the most strongly characterized of the three, the Cordelia of Debbie Wells '92 touching in her honesty. Maria Cheryl S. Casquejo '91 brought through the bitchiness of Regan.

Charles Roburn '91 was passionate and convincing as Kent; his confrontation with the stubborn Lear was well-staged, and his appearance dramatic.

Harry Teplitz '91 conveyed the despair of Gloucester convincingly. After Gloucester's blinding, his realization that "I have no eyes" came through especially strongly. None of the other parts were weakly done.

The program says Bruce Shapiro provided the "iconicity" (rather than the direction). I think we could do without such pretentiousness, especially when no program note is provided to illuminate the audience as to what "iconicity" means. Shapiro's direction, though, was sharp, with only a few passages where momentum flagged.

The set -- by William Fregosi -- symbolized brokenness, and had significant words from the play written on it. This is a play about brokenness, but in its poignant ending -- the body of Vanderway's Lear on Wells' Cordelia -- it was made whole.