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Lear – Review of superb production by Groundling Theatre Company

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By James Karas

The Groundling Theatre Company has staged a nuanced, moving and superb production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The title role is played by a woman (Seana McKenna) and thus the play is called simply Lear.
Director Graham Abbey has found in Seana McKenna one of Canada’s best actors to play Queen Lear. She delivers a powerful performance, with meticulous inflection, intonation and dramatic depth. When she curses her daughter Goneril by invoking the goddess to: “into her womb convey sterility. / Dry up in her the organs of increase” and finishes with the curse that one day “she may feel how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have
a thankless child” I found the words more terrifying because they are by a mother to her child. Lear’s descent into madness is developed with painstaking detail and McKenna emerges as an
outstanding and memorable Lear.
Colin Mochrie, the Fool, has a broad face that looks comical as befits a jester but he can also turn serious when he delivers acute barbs at Lear.
A refreshingly comical-serious Fool. A blonde Deborah Hay and a red-haired Diana Donnelly make a well-matched pair of evil doers
as Goneril and Regan.
Their greed, ambition and egocentrism stand out and they are indeed thankless and merciless children. C o r d e l i a (Mercedes Morris) comes out as somewhat bland compared to her brutal sisters but I suppose there is not much one can do with quiet virtue.
Jim Mezon gives a notable performance as the Earl of Gloucester.
He is decent, generous and loyal but easily deceived and not very bright. The latter qualities bring (about) his downfall and in the end he becomes a tragic character that almost parallels Lear’s life.
Alex McCooeye, tall, and lanky, plays the snake-like, treacherous
bastard Edmund while Antoine Yared plays the virtuous Edgar. Abbey eschews flourishes and soliloquies (Tomas Ketchum) who is ready to grab whatever acreage is or is not available.
I find the fate of Reverend John Hale almost as tragic as that of Proctor. He is a man of his time, of course, and believes that witchcraft and Satan are real and must be pursued and obliterated vigorously. He soon realizes that the hysteria of the girls is a fraud and the enthusiasm of the persecutors unfounded. He tries desperately to save people’s lives but he can do nothing about it. Nicholas Koy Santillo gives
us the transformation and desperate attempts of Hale to bring humanity and reason to Salem in a fine performance.
I was transfixed by the production and waited until the final scene of the  performance as if I had never seen the
play before.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller continues until February 3, 2018 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ont. www.tickets.harthouse. ca 416 978-8849
Photo credit to Scott Gorman,
performers credited front to back / left
to right
1. Jon Berrie as John Proctor, Melissa Taylor as Elizabeth Proctor
2. Joanna Decc as Mercy Lewis, Abigail Craven as Betty Parris,
Courtney Lamanna as Abigail Williams |Back: Nina Rose Taylor as Mary Warren
3. Lying down: Abigail Craven as Betty Parris | Anthony Botelho as Reverend Parris, Tomas Ketchum as Thomas Putnam, Nicholas Koy Santillo as Reverend Hale, Allyson Landy as Anne Putnam, Marilyn Willock as Rebecca Nurse, Thomas Gough as
Giles Corey, Courtney Lamanna as Abigail Williams
4. Courtney Lamanna as Abigail Williams, Abigail Craven as Betty Parris
5. Melissa Taylor as Elizabeth Proctor, Jon Berrie as John Proctor
6. Jon Berrie as John Proctor, Melissa Taylor as Elizabeth Proctor
7. Nina Rose Taylor as Mary Warren, Jon Berrie as John Proctor
8. Jon Berrie as John Proctor, Nina Rose Taylor as Mary Warren,
David John Phillips as Danforth, Thomas Gough as Giles Corey
9. Front: Abigail Craven as Betty Parris, Courtney Lamanna as Abigail Williams, David John Phillips as
Danforth | Back: Joanna Decc as Mercy Lewis, Charlin McIsaac as Suzanna Walcott, Anthony Botelho as Reverend Parris
10. The company of The Crucible
Lear – Review of superb production by Groundling Theatre Company like Edmund’s “Thou, Nature, art my goddess” are delivered in a relatively low key.
The play is done in the intimacy of the Harbourfront Centre Theatre on a small acting area flanked by the audience on
each side. The set by Peter Hartwell consists of a raised area with a desk that has a number of moveable planks that can be used to create a flat playing area or tossed around to emphasize
dramatic moments. The intimacy of the theatre and the pace set by Abbey work extremely well in accentuating every move and every line of the play.
Meticulous attention pays off. The playing area, as I said, consists of a raised platform and this created a small problem in the final scene when Lear carries in Cordelia in his arms. It is
the famous “Howl, howl, howl!” scene. McKenna could not possibly lift Morris and quite rightly drags her in on a sheet.
The problem arises when she has to lift Cordelia’s body a few inches from the floor onto the playing area. Lear is almost chanting the heart piercing cry “Howl,” a highly dramatic moment, while trying hard to roll Cordelia’s onto the
playing area. A few awkward moments that beg for a solution.
The costumes by Peter Hartwell were 19th century or thereabouts tails and cravats or black uniforms of
uncertain description. In all, however, this is a superb production of a very difficult play and it provides a great night at the theatre.
Lear by William Shakespeare in a production by Groundling Theatre Company continues until January 28, 2018 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queen’s Quay West, Toronto.
Ontario. www.groundlingtheatre.com