Ensemble Shakespeare’s Innovative & Intimate “Lear’s Shadow”

Theatre Review

Fred Cross and David Blue in a scene from “Lear’s Shadow”, now playing at Lineage Performing Arts Center

From the moment I entered what appears to be a rehearsal room set up for a table read of a play; tables and chairs facing center, covered in scripts and cups of pens with one lonely stagelight, I knew I was in for something different. Indeed, it is writer/director Brian Elerding’s intention to create a sort of fly on the wall experience of watching this rehearsal of sorts unfold.

Like a mystery novel, it’s a bit confusing and disorienting at first. We meet two actors preparing to rehearse scenes from “King Lear” but early on we sense that something is off with the actor playing Lear. Dementia? Memory loss? Trauma? The story begins to reveal itself with the actors moving back and forth from 400 year old Shakespearean verse to their modern day relationship. We see through the cracks and into their complex lives as they work and fight through the scenes together and we begin to piece together the puzzle. And then, suddenly, without warning, you are in their story. You are with them and somehow there’s a lump in your throat as you realize what you are witnessing.

David Blue is fiery and funny in his nimble performance as the young actor Stephen who challenges the older actor/director to play Lear to his Fool and Cordelia. Fred Cross gives a powerhouse performance as Jack, the obsessive artistic director of this modern theatre company and as Lear, bellows in the wind against his enemies real and imagined. The two of them circle each other in a power play and deftly pop in and out of Shakespeare’s impassioned speeches and their wonky breakdown of how the scenes should be played. Katie Peabody is sweet and heartbreaking as a young actress in the company. She brings authenticity and pure emotion to the role.

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There is a juxtaposition of humor, rage and sorrow and the emotional moments are ultimately earned. The show is extremely clever, so much so that while you are busy admiring the performance, you haven’t noticed that they’ve grabbed your heart.

“Lear’s Shadow” runs through May 6. Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7:30pm

Tickets are $25 online and at the door. Due to cursing in the script, this performance is recommended for mature audiences. The estimated runtime is 70 minutes, no intermission.

Tickets are available online at www.ensembleshakes.org.

Lineage Performing Arts Center 89 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105