Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Door Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ flinty


PHOTO: Richard Ooms plays Lear and directs Door Shakespeare’s production of “King Lear.” Jason Fassl photo

BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV) – Door Shakespeare’s production of “King Lear” gives a good idea of what William Shakespeare’s play is about. For starters: Matters of a mind gone awry, double dealing and resolution by death. Richard Ooms makes a wiry Lear, coloring the king’s words with physical, visual expression. It’s an interesting and often engaging production (4 stars out of 5) that runs 2¼ hours.

Through Aug. 16, Door Shakespeare is running “King Lear” in repertory with Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” Info: www.doorshakespeare.com, with my review of “The Comedy of Errors” at www.wearegreenbay.com/story/d/story/critic-at-large/25002/jWE85zrqO0avF5ga2INmww.


Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; director – Richard Ooms; assistant director – Claudia Wilkens; costume designer – Caitlin Lux; production stage manager – Melissa Wanke; lighting designer/production manager – Jason Fassl; fight choreographer/costume assistant – Dan Klarer; executive director – Amy J. Ludwigsen.

Cast: Lear, King of Britain – Richard Ooms; Goneril, his eldest daughter – Leslie Ann Handelman; Regan, his second daughter – Jennefer Ludwigsen; Cordelia, his youngest daughter – Victoria Caciopoli; Duke of Albany, married to Goneril – Jesse Dornan; Duke of Cornwall, married to Regan – Michael Perez; Earl of Gloucester – Jonathan Nichols; Edgar, his elder son – Charlie A. Wright; Edmund, his bastard son – David Folsom; Earl of Kent – Danny Junod; Fool, attendant to Lear – Claudia Wilkens; Oswald, Goneril’s steward – Joe Bianco; Knight, to Lear – Ross Destiche; Tenant, to Gloucester – Elyse Edelman; First Servant, to Cornwall – Joe Boersma; Second Servant, to Cornwall and Regan – Andres N. Chaves.


Richard Ooms directs the fast-moving production, and his cast is in tune with his take on shenanigans surrounding the dysfunction of Lear and his court. Two of Lear’s daughters are bad to the bone, and the third gains sympathy for her righteous courage. The husband of one vile daughter is pus, mean enough to pluck out a man’s eyes. The blinded man’s sons are 180 degrees different – a pus ball whose every maneuver is personal gain and a hero so desperate he feigns madness to save his skin. Such is the way of ancient Britain as envisioned by Shakespeare.

Fascinating moments:

- To the blinded man, the Earl of Gloucester (Jonathan Nichols), Lear offers off-the-wall advice: “Get yourself some glass eyes, and pretend to see things you can’t, like a politician.” In various versions, the “politician” comes with an adjective, “scurvy” or “crooked.” Ooms’ version seems a statement of what he thinks of politicians today. (It got a big laugh from the audience I was with).

- The Duke of Cornwall (Michael Perez) digs out the eyes of the Earl of Gloucester with his fingers one by one. Whoa. For effect, Perez flips something to the ground each time, giving the impression of an eyeball rolling in the dirt. It’s a scene of great shock.

- Shakespeare is amply sardonic throughout “King Lear.” Edmund (David Folsom), the pus-son, speaks to the audience, as if the audience is partner in his crimes – a collaborator, a confidante – and agreeable to his actions. Throughout, Fool (Claudia Wilkens) drops lines that tease and cajole as the Fool assesses life and actions with a scalpel. In other scenes, the around-the-bend Lear embraces the disgusting, filthy, naked (mostly) creature that Edgar (Charlie A. Wright) pretends to be and calls the icky thing “my philosopher.” If you like dark humor, “King Lear” has treasures.

- A scene with Edgar and his father, Gloucester, is fabulous. The blinded father is miserable and suffering. He asks the disguised Edgar, who he does not know is his son, to lead him to Dover so he can jump off the cliff. Edgar takes his father to a place that is Dover only in his mind. The father jumps and survives the fall because there was no cliff. The scene is pitiful, comical, wrenching and touching all rolled into one.

- Ooms’ flint sparks fires in Lear. Lear rages against his fortunes, bemoans his self-serving daughters (Leslie Ann Handelman as Goneril, Jennefer Ludwigsen as Regan) and lets fly curses and banishments, one of which he sorrowfully regrets over the body of the wronged daughter (Victoria Caciopoli as Cordelia). For a time, Lear seems aware something is amiss in his mind. Eventually, Lear goes out of his senses. As a performance, it’s vivid.

Now I digress to take on Lear today. Knowing what medical science knows of Alzheimer’s and dementia, the picture that Shakespeare draws of Lear changes. The madness of Lear has signs of what’s become known as Alzheimer’s. Does knowledge of Alzheimer’s change literature? Yes.

The play and production raise all sorts of questions I don’t profess to know answers to. What did Shakespeare see around him to shape the character of Lear? – strangers? acquaintances? friends? family? How close was “madness” that he could create such a thorough portrait? As for the production, do we want to know all that was left out that would delight scholars but deaden the experience of Shakespeare as summer fare?

Of note, Door Shakespeare’s production of “King Lear” is scheduled to be recorded Aug. 6 as part of a large international undertaking called Shakespeare on the Road. The project is looking at some of what Shakespeare as wrought, such as 14 Shakespeare festivals in North America.

THE VENUE: The theater space is outdoors. Dress warmly and consider bringing a blanket because the site is on the shore of Lake Michigan and naturally cooler. The performance area is a stone-lined patch of wood chips beneath a majestic, eye-catching 70-foot maple tree with shaggy bark. For “King Lear,” performance entrances and exits are along aisles, from areas stage left or stage right. The tree factors into some productions, but not so much in “King Lear.” The seating configuration is new this year, with seating for about 160 is on three platforms arcing around the performance space. This site was used differently in the past by Door Shakespeare; the seating faced the opposite way toward a grove of cedars. The theater is about a mile of winding road off of Highway 57. Bjorklunden is a 405-acre wooded site that is owned by Lawrence University of Appleton.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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