In deLEARious, a crazy and quick-witted comedy put on by Open Fist Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre, the talented cast simultaneously tells the stories of King Lear, Shakespeare writing King Lear, and even the writing of deLEARious itself- try to keep up!
King Lear, with seemingly never-ending duplicity and role-changing characters, can be hard to follow. Open Fist’s take, which tells the story using different musical number styles and just the right amount of slapstick humor, is a blast. From the opening scenes where the old King (Ron West) is manipulated wonderfully by his daughters Goneril (Robyn Roth) and Regan (Rachel Addington), through the scheming and machinations that drive him to madness and create internal turmoil in England and lead to a final confrontation with France, the ballads in particular do an excellent job highlighting the strong female characters in Lear, who very clearly drive the events in this at-times wacky story. Additional highlights include a Lear-led rock and roll number in the middle of show that was particularly memorable, as well as the epic storm near the end of the show simulated hilariously using water from spray bottles.
As much as I enjoyed the King Lear part of the play, I found the Shakespeare era portion to be truly special. I admittedly haven’t researched this is any depth, however Open Fist is having fun with the context surrounding the writing of Lear. King James I (Chase Studinski) has just assumed power, and needs to make an impression on his new English subjects. He does so in two playful ways in deLEARious. First, by butting into Shakespeare’s (Scott Mosenson) writing process of King Lear, adding his own whims and fancies where it suits him and his objectives. One dark humor example- we are led to believe that Shakespeare’s first draft called for Regan and Cornwall to forgive Gloucester after his allegedly treachery is revealed, because he claims he did everything in the interests of England. But James insisted on the more violent gouging out of eyes- perhaps to send a message to anyone that would seek to subvert authority? Second, he tasks Shakespeare with assisting in the King James Bible translation- and the dry and contradictory text of the Bible begins to come alive with the playwright’s flourishes. As the theme in the final musical number suggests, whether it’s a play or the word of God, “It’s gotta sell!”
As previously mentioned, deLEARious also has a few modern-day scenes, where co-creators Ron West (played by himself) and Phil Swann (Jan Roper) work through the plot and casting of the play. The dialogue here is great, however I’ll admit to being a bit lost during these sections, which felt a bit like an inside joke that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate.
Speaking about each of these time periods separately seemed to be the best way to approach this review, however it really doesn’t do the show justice. In reality, the tireless cast of deLEARious seamlessly transitions between plots and centuries at breakneck speed, which makes this ambition production impressive, hilarious, and even informative!
Where: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039
When: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday showings through December 16
Info: (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes