What is so bad about Shakespeare, I ask the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, that it needs to be dolled up and modernized? Statistics indicate that four out of five high school English teachers agree that the Bard's work is still pertinent, even with reality TV available. The Shakespeare Festival's current production of King Lear gets a two-pronged review: some is A-plus; some of it needs to stay after school for tutoring.
King Lear, the Shakespearean tragedy about the King of England's descent into craziness at the betrayal of his two daughters, is a fabulously touching and rightfully classic story-and these actors strutting and fretting their hours upon the outdoor stage collectively nailed their characters.
My beef is the Dynasty-Dallas-Falcon Crest-style motif employed to create the mise-en-scene. The ISF has gotten used to upselling the plays by adding contemporary spins on the classics, but perhaps some plays are best left in original setting.
So ISF looted the concept of J.R. Ewing's grotesque brood for the set and costumes and we get a few big-haired ladies, some Western accents and a stage littered with sagebrush tumbleweeds, but it just doesn't add much. Because both families exist in fiction's oh-so-exclusive group of dysfunctional households, they should be intertwined? That isn't enough. The connection is at best annoying and elicits an eye roll; at worst, the play's message is confused by inconsistencies like fashionable costumes matched with antiquated actions.
But hold it, pardner. Ignore the nonsense of English lords turned country western, and the play is actually fabulous, thanks to the skilled actors who justly make the ISF so regarded. All were convincing and all gave emotional performances that were at the right level between campy and cool.
Christina Lang stood out as evil daughter No.1, Goneril. Her husky voice perfectly boosted the sexy, cunning character's deception. Steve Tague portrayed the title king with mesmerizing madness and tremendous understanding. Resisting compassion was as difficult as Chinese algebra.
And a play just can't do wrong if the ensemble includes funnyman Tom Willmorth clowning-offering comic relief as the premonition-spewing Fool. The other half of the Fools Squad, Joe Golden, shone as usual, but in a more serious role.
In truth, if the ISF keeps with the spicing up of traditions, I can't wait to see MacBeth go Detroit-to-L.A. rapper. Go Shakespeare, it's your birfday!
King Lear, through August 31, $18-$32, Idaho Shakespeare Festival.