While it may not be everyone’s first thought when considering how to stage an effective production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, the double-cast version that Irwin Appel has created for UCSB’s Naked Shakes program turns out to be a great solution. With professional actor Brian Harwell in the lead role and two separate ensembles of UCSB undergrads in the other parts, this 90-minute Lear is as powerful as it is compact, and consistently revelatory.
The Naked Shakes approach is like reading in the steady illumination of a substantial lamp. The words come first; the truth of their sense gives rise to everything else, from physical action to intonation and emotional engagement. For example, when Lear lashes out at Goneril (Tadja Enos) and Regan (Michelle Hester) for dismissing his entourage from their castles, he cries out, “reason not the need,” implying that among family, empathy and respect should constrain overly rational judgment.
Once again, Harwell’s fine and durable Lear elicits fireworks from the young cast, who rise to the occasion over and over again. In this cast, Kassidy Klinesmith was particularly notable for her country take on Kent’s disguise, as was Jeremy Scharf for an antic and tuneful turn as Lear’s Fool. Sean Blocker excelled in the difficult and crucial role of Edmund, and Kody Siemensma provided an admirable contrast as his half-brother Edgar. This is great Shakespeare, and we should all cry a hearty thanks to the UCSB theater program for the news that both casts will be back for another run in November.