King Lear

“King Lear,” one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, is bar none the best show at this year’s Utah Shakespearan Festival.

An exciting, enthralling story of familial love and personal ambition, the play has enough villains, liars and traitors to fill Congress. There is also reconciliation, though, and some touching performances from a few very solid actors.

A brief summary: Lear (William Metzo) and the Earl of Gloucester (Richard Hill), in parallel plotting, each disown the one child who actually loves them most, while embracing the ones who secretly plot their demise and want their land and power. Lear goes insane upon realizing his mistake, while Gloucester’s bastard son Edmund (Jonathan Gillard Daly), fulfilling every possible definition of that word, hands his father over to the evil Duke of Cornwall (John Pasha), who pokes out his eyes.

One rather beautiful scene is between the blinded Gloucester and his good son, Edgar, who does not reveal his identity. Sick at heart over having cast away good Edgar, Gloucester wants to leap from the cliffs of Dover and end his life. Edgar, forgiving his father’s mistakes, lovingly helps him realize the value of living, and the two continue on.

Lear is the star of the show, of course, and William Metzo is superb in the role. The character spends most of the play being insane, but Metzo gives us such a grand image of Lear in his pre-crazy scenes — an extroverted bon vivant, an exuberant man full of life and energy — that we are truly sad to see him degenerate.

He is briefly reconciled to his one loving daughter, Cordelia (Caroline Shaffer), but their time is short. The final scene, with Lear, howling with madness and agony, carrying Cordelia’s body onstage, is a heartbreaking, haunting image. The words are comparatively few (for Shakespeare), as Lear is insane beyond reason, but his primal yells are enough.

Also giving a good performance is Daly as the shifty, conniving, murderous Edmund. He is sly and weaselly in behavior and physical appearance, and he makes for a thoroughly despicable villain.

Jeannie Naughton and Tyler Layton are appropriately icy and spiteful as Lear’s ungrateful daughters, Goneril and Regan.

In fact, while a few weak spots can be found in a couple performances, they are not enough to bring down the show as a whole, nor are they worth mentioning. “King Lear” is a fine production, full of tragedy and sadness, but also with an uplifting feeling of hope and redemption.

What a fine play this is. Some consider it Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, and I can't come up with much argument to the contrary. There really is a palpable sense of hope at the end, which is very different from the morose, everybody's-dead, life's-all-screwed-up endings of "Romeo and Juliet" or "Hamlet."

We were particularly fond of Metzo, who played Lear. He looked somewhat like Sean Connery, who probably would have been able to play Lear a few years ago, before he watered down his talents by hanging around the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones.