Monday, May 23, 2011

Short Take: Lear by Shakespeare, Vortex Repertory, May 20 - June 18

Jennifer Underwood in Lear, Vortex Repertory

Short take:

The Vortex version of Lear features several accomplished Austin actors, including most notably Jennifer Underwood in the title role, but director Rudy Ramirez trivializes Shakespeare's great epic of royal folly and delusion. Lear's rage against the storm is converted into a confused confrontation with paparazzi, and key narration is projected as sound-bites from MSNBC-style talking heads, proving that style can defeat substance. Cross-gender casting for the roles of Kent and Edda (Edgar) is puzzling; less so for Shannon Grounds as the Fool. Underwood doesn't really get going until the mad scene in Act IV, scene 6. Other standouts in the cast include Micah Goodding as the wily and wicked bastard Edmund, Jen Coy as Regan and Tom Truss as Cornwall. The last third or so of the production -- from the blinding of Gloucester onward -- has impact and conviction.


  1. My opinion of this show differs from the reviewers in several ways. First, there is no trivialization here: the epic sweep of ego, ambition, betrayal, anger, filial love and loyalty, madness, and death is intact. To hear Lear curse Goneril, condemning her to barrenness or, worse, a spiteful child who will torment her all her life, is to see Fury unleashed.

    Cross-gender casting is not new, and neither character suffers from the choice of actors. I'm not sure what the reviewer means by "puzzling"--but there is nothing puzzling about good actors playing strong characters . . . and the casting here worked well. Good on them!

    I am puzzled by the comment about Lear not getting going until the mad scene. Perhaps the reviewer missed Lear's damnation of Goneril, and her betrayal by both daughters in concert. When I saw it tonight, Lear was on from moment one. As for the scene in the storm with the paparazzi--I do agree that this was different to the usual presentation of Lear more or less alone, raging at the storm, and it was probably the accommodation I liked least--but I thought it worked in the context of the story and the setting.

    All in all, an excellent cast in a strong re-imagined Lear, and well played by all. It is long--3 hours or so--but is so good, it will only seem half that long! Well worth the price of admission; if you like Shakespeare, you'll love "Lear" at the Vortex. If you don't like Shakespeare, you will after you see this. Go.

  2. Thanks for commenting. I'm posting your words at, as well. regards, Michael