UCSB’s lively and relevant Naked Shakes program is back with a one-act version of King Lear that goes straight to the heart of Shakespeare’s transcendently poetical family drama. So many students took professor Irwin Appel’s summer intensive course in acting Shakespeare this year that he decided to double-cast the show, using one professional actor, Brian Harwell, as Lear, and two discrete casts of students to produce two versions of this startlingly fresh and juicy adaptation. On Saturday evening, a capacity audience in UCSB’s Performing Arts Theater caught Cast Two, which featured Cordelia Watson as Goneril, Rosslyn Cornejo as Regan, and Olivia Nathan as Cordelia. Jack Hayes was a suitably slimy and sexy Edmund, and Oliver Rubey gave a fascinating performance as the “legitimate” brother, Edgar.
Lear is a long, complex tragedy stuffed to bursting with divine poetry. While Appel’s edited version slimmed it down to a little more than 90 minutes, the sinews that have made it Shakespeare’s second most renowned work remained intact. Harwell’s powerful physical characterization of the king left no doubt about who was the burning center of the play, yet he worked so well with the younger members of the cast that their performances shone more brightly for being seen in the circle of his light.
As in all Naked Shakes productions, the text is the sovereign to which every actor must pledge his or her troth. From the terrifying scene in which Gloucester (Tyler Reinhold) is blinded to the poignant finale that reunites Lear with Cordelia, everything in this wise and noble production rang true.