by Keith Barber

The audience inside the Scales Fine Arts Center rose to its feet as the cast of William Shakespeare’s King Lear took its final bow at the conclusion of the Wake Forest Theatre production’s run of the classic play on April 10. There was much to applaud. First of all, King Lear is undoubtedly one of the most challenging of Shakespeare’s works to produce for any theater company, but director Cindy Gendrich, her talented cast and top-notch crew pulled it off with great aplomb.

Secondly, due to the fact Wake Forest is a liberal arts university and not a conservatory, the players covered the gamut of stage experience. If Lear had been performed by the UNC School of the Arts, most likely the cast would have been composed entirely of students, which would’ve put the performers on more even footing. But much like the story of Lear, played with vigor and ferocity by veteran stage actor Dennis Krausnick, there were peaks and valleys throughout the threehour performance. The student performers, however, should be commended for their enthusiasm and courage to take on “a mammoth project,” to borrow a line from Gendrich. Freshman Frank Aguilar, who played Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester’s illegitimate son, handled the comedic aspects of his part well, but there was a slight drop-off during the more dramatic sequences. Senior Dan Applegate served notice that he is a force to be reckoned with in theater world, portraying Edgar, Gloucester’s eldest son, with a depth and breadth most professional actors aspire to achieve. Much to Gendrich’s credit, the players kept the audience engaged for three hours until the Duke of Albany, played by Alex Boston, spoke the famous last words: The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most: we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long. As the curtain fell that night, Gendrich’s contention that King Lear is a play for all seasons, that it still holds up today came shining through. Lear is a man caught up in power and possessions, Gendrich said, and that human tendency lies at the heart of the world’s economic woes. It is Lear’s being forced to face nothingness, the void that every man, woman and child can relate to in today’s world. “As so many people in our world lose their homes, their jobs, and any financial buffer, we are being forced to learn from this hard time, turning to each other, an away from our ‘stuff,’ in search of what matters,” said Gendrich. Then, during the second act, Lear is forced to look past his own personal troubles and he finally sees the suffering in his own kingdom. The scene of Lear walking through a raging thunderstorm poised on the precipice of disaster highlighted the fantastic work of scenic designer Rob Eastman-Mullins, lighting designer Jonathan Christman and sound designer Wes Calkin on the Wake Forest production. Costume designer Mary Wayne-Thomas utilized a 1920s-era wardrobe to outfit the cast, and the move worked brilliantly. The rule of thumb with Lear is pick a century and stick with it, and Wayne-Thomas’ costumes had a subtle yet definite impact on the overall quality of the production. Visiting actors Michael Huie, who played the Earl of Gloucester, and Ray Collins, who played the Earl of Kent, deserve much credit for elevating the production with their vast understanding of how to enunciate clearly the Elizabethan English lines with clarity and the appropriate feeling. Krausnick, the emotional barometer of the cast, opened with a vengeance during the scene where he divides up his kingdom among his daughters, Goneril and Regan, while disowning his youngest daughter Cordelia. Krausnick’s sheer force in the opening sequence may have left audience members wondering if he could maintain that high level of intensity for 180 minutes. In later scenes, when Lear teeters on the brink of insanity, it’s clear that Krausnick’s vigor never waned. Right up until the final tragic scene, he commanded the stage and set the bar for his fellow thespians. A tragedy should elicit tears from its audience and Wake Forest’s King Lear brought forth the emotion congealed in Shakespeare’s poetic text. And the scores of talented people involved with the production should be praised for putting on an ancient production that really matters to its 21st’ century audience.

King Lear, played by Dennis Krausnick, beholds his deceaseddaughter, Cordelia, played by Lauren Gaston, in Wake Forest UniversityTheatre’s production of the William Shakespeare classic play. Theproduction concluded its two-week run on April 10. (photo courtesy ofWake Forest University)