That Cordelia (Christina Sajous) appears at the end of Alfred Preisser’s staging of King Lear resembling Tina Turner in a spaghetti-strapped leather corset and single-handedly does battle with the British soldiers allied against her father should come as no surprise to theatergoers. This Lear emphasizes the physical prowess of its ensemble while vastly undermining the emotional impact of Shakespeare’s text.
There are early indications of the athleticism that Preisser’s staging will require. When asked to express her love for her father, Regan (Zainab Jah) leaps onto Lear (André De Shields), straddling him with her legs. When the duplicitous Edmond (Ty Jones) enters, he literally vaults over one of the high, wheeled platforms that make up Troy Hourie’s set. By the time Lear’s daughters have stripped him of his retinue of soldiers and he’s wandered onto the heath, Regan and sister Goneril (Robyne Landiss Walker) stand upon these platforms, pushed in circles around Lear by supernumeraries whose biceps strain at their weight. One doesn’t concentrate so much on Lear’s sad fate as on the image and strength necessary to accomplish it. This is unfortunate, for there are glimpses of how beautifully affecting De Shields’s always fascinating Lear can be, particularly late in the play when Lear shares a moment of lucidity with Ted Lange’s regal Gloucester. Here, the production leaps to life without resorting to acrobatics.