By Bob Evans
Always expect excellence with Kansas City Actors Theatre mounts a project, but add an extra dose of intensity when they select a Shakespearean tragedy and enlist the support of the UMKC’s MFA candidates to work alongside them as they do in “King Lear” in Spencer Theater on the UMKC campus.
“King Lear,” a very limited run, affords the younger thespians the opportunity to work alongside one of the distinguished professors in the MFA program, Theodore Swetz, who portrays Shakespeare’s aging King Lear. With Swetz as the tragic king his students display their skills alongside him and other seasoned actors. Kansas City favorite, Mark Robbins portrays Gloucester; Logan Black, Kent; Peggy Friesen, fool.
UMKC students in “King Lear” include: Heather Michele Lawler as Gonerill, Amy Billroth-MacLurg as Regan, Chelsea Kinser as Cordelia, Ken Sandberg as Albany, Duncan McIntyre as Cornwall, Jason Francescon as France/Doctor; Freddy Acevedo as Burgundy/Gentleman/Soldier, Charlie Spillers as Edgar, Kahlif Gillett as Edmund, Jay Love, James Kemper, Jack Kneessy, Joshua Woodall as Messengers/Attendants, Guards.
The production team is led by Ryan Artzberger, director; Mark Exline, scenic designer; Caroline Allander, costume designer; Shannon Barondeau, lighting designer; Zach Pierson, sound designer and composer; TJ Torbio, properties designer; Kelsey Brennan York, stage manager; Lisa Tinker, Colin Fowler, assistant stage managers.
An angry and ageing King Lear decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia in exchange for their devotion and pledges of love toward him. When Cordelia cannot express her love to his satisfaction, Lear banishes her and she leaves to marry the king of France. The two remaining sisters display their greed, jealousy, and power to defeat each other and reign supreme once Lear passes. But, even the best plans go awray and their demise begins the string of deaths that spell tragedy. In a sub plot, the legitimate and illegitimate sons of Gloucester vie for his power and fortune in a deadly game of jealousy and rage. The two plots intermingle with dramatic effect to create one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most brutal tragedies.
Swetz, Robbins, and Black give superb performances as Lear, Gloucester and Kent. Friesen plays the savvy Fool, with an edge to the sharp-witted jester. Their stage presence and delivery of the Bard’s lines make Shakespeare easy for the audience to understand and follow. There are matched my the MFA students in their challenging parts as the students give superior performances in this showcase for their talent. Lawler and BillrothMacClurg have never been more evil. Their cunning drive to attach and destroy each other stands out. Sandberg and McIntyre equally stand out as the power-hungry partners of the two princesses. Spillers and Gillett bring sibling rivalry to new depths as the two sons of Gloucester. Expect to see more of these next wave of Kansas City actors as they move from student productions to equity performers. Chelsea Kinser also gives a sincere performance as the youngest and favorite daughter of Lear, Cordelia, but her character’s stage time limits her because she only appears in the beginning and ending scenes.
“King Lear” continues at 7:30, evenings at Spencer Hall on the UMKC campus through Oct. 23. For tickets contact the KCAT website.
Tags: Kansas City Actors Theatre, UMKC Theatre, UMKC, King Lear, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment