What better for a rainy night than a Shakespearean tragedy in the moody old Masonic Lodge in downtown Albany?
Lear (George Fileau), the king of medieval Britain, has decided he wants to retire. He plans to divide his territory between his three daughters: Goneril, the eldest (Laura Darling), Regan, the middle daughter (Aeshley Grace) and Cordelia, the youngest and the one he admits he loves the most (Vivian Wilson-Hwang.) He only asks that they profess how much they love him before he gives them their inheritance. The two elder daughters say what he wants to hear and get the land, while Cordelia can’t bring herself to say she loves him above anyone else, knowing that someday she’ll marry and love that man more; in a fit of anger, Lear disinherits her and banishes his closest advisor, the Earl of Kent (Stephen Henel) who tells Lear that he’s making a mistake. You know that everything’s going to go downhill from there, and it’s not going to end on a happy note: there’s madness, murder, and betrayal (and one extremely bloody punishment scene.)
Fileau gives a strong performance as Lear; the character is relatable (if not frustratingly stubborn, at least early on) and by the end, you truly have empathy for what he’s brought upon himself. His final scene is a standout, as is his first scene with his Fool (David DiPaola), his first scene with Mad Tom (Kasey Kenyon) and his madness scene. Darling is dark and moody, perfect in her scheming, and has real chemistry with James Wild, playing Edmund; Grace is lighter but more cunning in her plotting, the type to stab you in the back (while Darling would stab you in the front with no compunctions); Wilson-Hwang is the perfect Cordelia, all sweetness, and light, forgiveness, and love, but with the strength needed to stand up to her sisters and make a life on her own when hers is unexpectedly whisked away. DiPaola’s Fool is joyous to watch; Henel brings both gravitas and comedy to Kent and was the perfect casting choice for the character; Wild’s dark and brooding Edmund is the antagonist you love to hate and Kasey Kenyon, as Edgar (and Mad Tom) gave a performance you couldn’t look away from – not only two diametrically opposed characters, but one of them playing a number of characters within a character, and all of them crisp, believable and interesting.
Wilson-Hwang also designed the throne, which was gorgeous – the techie in me spent far too long trying to figure out how exactly it was sculpted – and Darling’s costume design was skillful; the women’s costumes were especially beautiful, and the crowns were perfect.
If you’re worried you won’t understand the show for the language, put that out of your mind; just by paying attention you’ll understand what’s happening, and Linda D. Shirey’s direction has a hand in that – the show has a lot of care and time put into it, and it truly shows.
“King Lear,” Confetti Stage, 67 Corning Place, Albany; through May 6; $15-$10; Runtime: 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 460-1167; https://confettistage.org/