Orange Coast College is essaying the densest and most bitter of Shakespeare's tragedies, "King Lear," a timeless tale of foolish age betrayed by ambitious youth. One of the most widely quoted of Shakespeare's plays, it interweaves a nest of plots and requires an enormous company of principal players. The role of Lear itself, legendary for its physical and vocal demands, is one of the most emotionally searing ever written, as it chronicles the descent of a mighty king into madness and desolation.
Director Alex Golson has wisely built his commendable production around Jon V. Sidoli as Lear. The mature actor's majestic presence and resonant sensibilities anchor everything around him. Sidoli's powerful voice, piercing eyes and quick, expressive movement serve him and the audience very well in a performance that is always clean and engaging and, in more than one moment, truly transcendent.
Of the supporting cast, lanky Greg Harris shines in a gentle interpretation of the Fool, his rubbery grin well befitting a man made to inspire laughter. Harris and Sidoli create a touching bond between the monarch and his teasing conscience.
Laura Hinsberger is an expressive Cordelia, Lear's loving and faithful daughter, especially in the opening court scene, which catapults the plot into fiery action. In this scene in particular, director Golson has found impressive colors and rhythms. Other scenes tend more toward summary, one-note strokes that advance the story but skirt the vortex of human cruelty and suffering expressed with uncanny modernity in Shakespeare's concise and unsparing language.
As Lear's heartless eldest daughter, Goneril, Anette Sanders is a snake-eyed, pouting shrew, well matched to the evil she enacts. Although both she and Kathleen Kaefer, an icy sister Regan, stumble somewhat over the obstacle of bringing humanity to such thoroughly bad characters, Sanders adds a life-giving dash of humor to her coldblooded queen.
The main tragedy of Lear and his daughters fares well under Golson's hand. The Edgar/Edmund/Gloucester subplot struggles, in spite of Mark Coyan's honest work as the noble and long-suffering Edgar.
As Edmund, Peter Uribe has an oily physical attractiveness but fails utterly to investigate the infamous villain as a person. He races incoherently through some of the most gorgeous language ever written. In conspiracy with David Scaglione as the Duke of Gloucester, a performance as flat as a dead man's EKG, Uribe reduces much of the first act to garbled shouting.
Scaglione's set design, however, serves the action well, evoking Celtic antiquities with its massive stones and rune signs on the central, decaying altar. The costumes by Kelly Ragan are similarly evocative. Q. Spencer Powell's thunderous sound effects completely overwhelm the actors, but thanks to Sidoli's luminous work as Lear, Orange Coast College's production gleams through the storm.
An Orange Coast College theater department production of the tragedy by William Shakespeare. Directed by Alex Golson. With Jon V. Sidoli, Eric Person, Steven Castillo, David Lamb, Q. Spencer Powell, Joseph Dunham, David Scaglione, Mark Coyan, Peter Uribe, Anette Sanders, Kathleen Kaefer, Laura Hinsberger, Greg Harris, Tom Hensley, Peter Roche, Craig Morganti, David Henshaw, Anna Fitzwater, Fredi R. Springer, Trista Peare, Victoria Fultz, Heather Bovee, Salvy Maleki, Pauline Tannous, Jackie Chambers, Eddy Hansen, Gregory Dunham, Henry Truong, Tony A. Swagler, David Welch, Alex Ramirez, Jon Bender and Chris Schwenk. Continues tonight and Thursday through next Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 17, at 3 p.m. in the Drama Lab at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $5-$7. Reservations: (714) 432-5527.