Deciding to relax a bit in his golden years, King Lear intends to divide his wealth among his three daughters. When Cordelia, the youngest, doesn't compliment him to his satisfaction, he banishes her, dividing her share between the other two. But Goneril and Regan, who professed their undying love to the king, are already conspiring to overthrow him.
That's the main story of "King Lear," being performed by the California Shakespeare Company in Moorpark. Like all of the company's productions, it's well-acted under William Fisher's direction, and as accessible as the Bard is going to get.
While Lear's thankless daughters are working to unseat him, there's another inter-familial plot in the works: Edmund, illegitimate and jealous son of the Earl of Gloucester, is plotting to discredit his noble-spirited and legitimate half-brother, Edgar, by framing him in a plot against their father. Regan is in league with her husband, the villainous Duke of Cornwall, and Goneril is cheating on her virtuous husband, Lear's friend, the Duke of Albany.
While Goneril is mainly ambitious, and a bit lusty, Regan seems to bask in the sheer joy of being nasty (she's similar to Richard III in that respect); again, Shakespeare has created especially strong female characters. Lear goes mad, Gloucester has his eyes gouged out and tries to commit suicide by jumping off the White Cliffs of Dover, and several principal characters are dead by curtain time.
While Atty. Gen. Janet Reno searches for Shakespeare so she can have a stern talk with him about all this violence, there's plenty of melodramatic action in "Lear" for everybody else. It is also, in several places, intentionally very funny.
Ronald Rezac stars as Lear. Only a few years ago he had never performed Shakespeare, and now with Macduff, Henry IV and Richard III among his major roles, he's one of Ventura County's most accomplished performers. M. Virginia Worley plays devoted daughter Cordelia, with Tracy Markle and Amanda Charlton as the evil (and, of course, much more fun) sisters.
Douglas Rye--a newcomer to the company, with a magnificent voice--plays the doomed Earl of Gloucester, with Brian D. Evans and Dan Wingard as foul Edmund and fair Edgar. Anthony Liveri gets the flashy part of the Duke of Kent. Robert Seeley is the conniving Duke of Cornwall, Michael Jordan is Lear's ally, the Duke of Albany, and Will Shupe is the King's not-so-foolish Fool.
It's a huge cast, with Mitchell Castro deserving mention for dashing on and off stage in six spear-carrying roles; Seth Allen plays four, and Ored Gross plays three.
The production is typically simple, all the better to concentrate on the acting, though the costumes are nice and Aaron Craig has choreographed some good sword fights.
"King Lear," California Shakespeare Company's last show until fall, ends the season with a flourish. The upcoming Ojai Shakespeare Festival and Shakespeare in the Park should find these productions to be quite a challenge.
* WHAT: "King Lear."
* WHEN: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.; Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. through May 15.
* WHERE: California Shakespeare Company Theater, 6685 Princeton Ave., Moorpark.
* HOW MUCH: $12, general admission; $10 for seniors and students.
* FYI: 498-3354.