The good news is East Lansing Community Theatre’s first play of the season has genuine improvements from past productions. The bad news is the company is still doing Shakespeare for a community that seems to lack significant interest in the Bard.
The cast of “King Lear” has 16 members.
When the opening show ended about two and a half hours later, only four people — including this reviewer and a Pulsar Awards judge were in the spacious East Lansing Hannah Community Center to applaud their efforts.
In the past, the East Lansing Community Theatre’s cast members provided their own costumes.
For “King Lear,” the cast wears more century appropriate clothing loaned by Galen Sandy Scott and James Scott. The costumes add an authentic flavor to the tale of a pre-Roman, Celtic British king who goes mad.
What maddened me were the costumes for six female cast members who were supposedly portraying men. I found it hard to imagine some obviously female actors, often wearing dresses, to be Dukes or Earls. Accessories like modern belts, dress shoes, contemporary pants and even eyeglasses for the King, spoiled their Iron Age image.
Although the ELCT still uses moveable props rather than a real set, “King Lear’s” few adornments by Holly Engler are more period accurate than in past performances.
A once familiar, shabby sofa is gone. What confused me was why the king’s throne from the first act was always evident on stage, even when scenes switched regularly to nowhere near the throne room.
All performances are well-rehearsed and staged proficiently by director Dale Wayne Williams — although I sometimes had a hard time hearing actors at the rear of the stage from my forth row seat.
“King Lear” is a multifaceted and interconnected story about daughters’ loyalty and power that includes characters who are often not what they seem. It’s easy to be confused about who is who.
Sarah Smith forcefully plays a character who appears to be a mere attendant to the king, even though they are actually the Earl of Kent. Mark Polzin capably goes through the most transformations, as what seems to be a deranged beggar who is actually the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester. Steve Ledyard competently plays said Earl, while stealing scenes with his gory, gouged out eyes — cleverly depicted by Ameilia Rogocka’s make-up effects.
Some of the cast, including Polzin, Ledyard, Iris Raine Paul, Kris Vitols, and Anne Marie Foley were in last season’s “Twelfth Night.” When I reviewed that in March, the play likewise had good deliveries of a Shakespeare script. Alas, “Twelfth Night” also had the same auditorium with rows and rows of empty seats.
Despite the enthusiasm and competency of its members, the ELCT needs to admit the local enthusiasm for Shakespeare — even in a university town — doesn’t warrant another Bard box office bomb. Producing another Shakespearean tragedy will surely have tragic results.
“King Lear” Sept. 20-22
$10 Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Hannah Community Center 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing www.cityofeastlansing. com/1819/East-Lansing- Community-Theatre