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Treachery, conspiracy and royal intrigue: From its opening scene to its tragic finale, “King Lear” is a tumultuous storm of emotions. This complex and multilayered play, which has been considered Shakespeare’s most epic tragedy, tells the heart-wrenching tale of an elderly king, betrayed by his own children, who gradually descends into madness as his elder daughters plan to take over his throne. In the Princeton Shakespeare Company’s version, directed by Kanoa Mulling ’15, a stellar cast and crew deliver an astoundingly beautiful version of this classic drama, fully exploring all the depths of this work.

Jake Robertson ’15 plays the titular role to stunning effect. The role of King Lear is one well-regarded by actors for the wide range of emotions required. From hopeful optimism to painful rejection, from tempestuous rage to tender love, Robertson portrays each of King Lear’s complex feelings stupendously. As the play proceeds, each of his monologues supersedes the one before it in style and delivery. Toward the beginning of the play, when King Lear feels betrayed by his youngest and most cherished daughter, Cordelia, he decries her furiously, disinheriting her and disavowing his love for her. Later on, when King Lear rants against a howling tempest, Robertson truly outdoes himself: He feverishly storms across the stage, gesticulating wildly and shouting over the roar of the storm as his half-mad character vents his pent-up frustration at his family’s betrayal.

Evan Coles ’15 and Carolyn Vasko ’13 also amaze in their supporting roles. Coles plays Edmund, the illegitimate youngest son of a nobleman who schemes to snatch his brother’s birthright. The role of Edmund also requires a fluid range of moods, from diffident to conspiratorial to repentant. Coles fleshes out his character remarkably well, smoothly transitioning between the many emotions required, and makes a highly relatable, very real character out of Edmund.

Vasko also impressed in her two roles, as Cordelia and as the king’s fool. Vasko’s fool jokes with and sometimes mocks the king, but also shows a wise nature characteristic of Shakespearean fools. Vasko makes the fool more than just a character for comic relief: Her fool’s wisdom contrasts sharply with the king’s absurdity. Her fool is perfectly depicted as a wise foil to the unraveling king.

Vasko’s talents are put to even greater use when she plays Cordelia, the king’s favorite daughter. Her acting plumbs the emotional depths of her character. There is definitely a chemistry between Vasko and Robertson that makes their characters’ relationship work so well. In one of the best scenes of the production, King Lear, who has slowly returned to sanity, recognizes his daughter, crying out, “I think this lady / To be my child Cordelia,” amid tears of relief. This scene, the emotional reunion of father and daughter, made such an impact precisely because Vasko and Robertson made it work so well, expertly conveying King Lear’s remorse and Cordelia’s relief.

The design of the set is superb; in particular, the use of lighting and shadows by Sydney Becker ’16 nicely highlights the mood of several scenes in the play. When Edmund mulls over his treacherous plot to betray his brother, Edgar, and steal the dukeship of Gloucester, he slips away into the shadows to brood over his plan. During the storm scene, when King Lear rants against his misfortune, the lighting dims to reflect both the darkness outside and the darkness within King Lear’s mind. The excellent use of lighting complements the actors’ performances by highlighting the moods of these critical scenes.

The tastefully balanced makeup by Gerardo Veltri ’15, Kemy Lin ’15 and Sophie Brown ’15 also contributed to the atmosphere of the play. For instance, the makeup on Edgar (Lagan Trieschmann ’14) after his brother Edmund drives him away demonstrates his transition from the son of a nobleman to a savage. Also notable are the fight scenes, choreographed by Dan Ames GS, which manage to add an element of surprise and excitement to the play without overpowering the drama.

PSC’s “King Lear” is definitely a hit due to the skill of the dedicated actors and crew members. Their production of one of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedies is an unforgettable experience.

5 out of 5 paws

Pros: Amazing main and supporting actors; tasteful set.

Cons: None. 

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