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"King Lear," October 15-25, SC Shakespeare Company at Finlay Park, 787-2273.

"The Shape of Things," October 16-26, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.

"The Other Place," October 17 - November 1, Trustus Side Door Theatre, 254-9732.

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"Cheaper By the Dozen," November 7-16, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.

"Much Ado About Nothing," November 8-17, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 924-7158.

"White Christmas," November 14 - December 7, Town Theatre, 799-2510.

"Guys & Dolls Jr.," November 14-16, Columbia Children's Theatre YouTheatre, 691-4548.

"Our Town," November 14-22, USC Longstreet Theatre.

"Comedy of Errors," November 14-23, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.

"The Women of Lockerbie," November 20-23, USC Lab Theatre.

"A Christmas Carol," November 21 - December 20, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Christmas in Lexington," December 5-14, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.

"Jack Frost," December 5-14, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," December 11-21, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.

"A Very Second Samuel Christmas," December 12-20, On Stage Productions, 351-6751.

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SC Shakespeare Company's King Lear Well Crafted, Easy to Follow

Review by August Krickel

I didn't think it was possible. King Lear has never been among my favorite Shakespearean plays, or characters, but the South Carolina Shakespeare Company's production, running through this weekend in Finlay Park, has made me reconsider. With excellent performances by the lead actors and precise attention to the text and its meaning by director Linda Khoury, this King Lear is a fast-paced tale of palace intrigue complicated (or perhaps instigated) by family dysfunction.

The familiar story revolves around the aging ruler of Iron Age Britain who plans to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. While the eldest two heap insincere flattery on him, knowing that this will enlarge their husband's dukedoms, the youngest, Cordelia, has inherited her beloved father's pride, stubbornness, and volatility, and balks at the notion of having to prove her love to obtain her dowry. All hell breaks loose, and Lear banishes both Cordelia and Kent, a loyal earl who dares to question Lear's decision. When his two remaining daughters take control, Lear realizes too late that he is at their mercy, pitches a royal fit, and shows his ass (on opening night both literally as well as figuratively, in an unplanned wardrobe malfunction.) Storming out into bleak terrain just as a literal storm commences, accompanied by only his jester and Kent (now disguised in order to continue serving his liege),  Lear is driven over the edge into actual madness by prolonged rage and exposure to the elements.

Lear is a difficult character for many to sympathize with, since he has few redeeming qualities, apart from an eloquent way with words, courtesy of that dialogue-writing William guy. Yet plenty of characters remain loyal to him, and risk their lives in a conspiracy to restore him to power. I never understood how he could be seen as a tragic hero, until I experienced the interaction between Chris Cook as Lear and Katie Mixon as Cordelia. As Lear's fury subsides (thanks to rest, and to some inventive staging by Khoury where we see doctors bearing soothing herbs - probably some ancient brew of chamomile tea and St. John's Wort) he realizes how cruelly he has treated his daughter. With body language, expressions, tears, and just a few lines, Mixon allows us to understand the genuine connection that once existed between father and daughter. Lear's tragedy as protagonist, if not exactly hero, becomes apparent in his remorse for his actions, which have resulted in fatal consequences for both family and kingdom, and the pain in Cook's voice and face is heartbreaking. He's awfully vigorous and spry for such an elderly character, but his command of the eloquent blank verse is just beautiful to see and hear.

What I had forgotten from both high school English class and from seeing two previous productions, or possibly never realized, is that Lear's sons-in-law are likely to go to war once the kingdom is divided, and that Edmund, bastard son of the loyal Earl of Gloucester, realizes that if he can get his father and brother out of the way, he can rise to power in the imminent conflict. The knowing looks and provocative glances from Lear's daughters - another clever bit of business from Khoury - can only increase his prospects. Meanwhile, the "good" characters are all in touch via letters with Cordelia, now Queen of France, who is leading an army to rescue her father (since the French rarely need an excuse to attack the English.)  By emphasizing the text and therefore the story, Khoury enables the audience to follow the larger plot, which is more than a little reminiscent of Game of Thrones. She has trimmed the script down to a run time of a little over two and half hours (plus intermission), but wisely leaves in every tiny moment of exposition, while ensuring that her actors speak trippingly on the tongue, suiting the action to the word and the word to the action (to steal a few lines from Hamlet.)

Raia Hirsch and Sara Blanks, as Goneril and Regan, Lear's older daughters, are appropriately evil, and happily resemble both Mixon and each other. A nice subtle touch is their seemingly reasonable request that Lear give up his retinue of knights; their clarity of delivery reveals that however economical, their plan will "coincidentally" leave Lear with no bodyguards and therefore no defenses. Bobby Bloom as Edmund is the master of both the soliloquy and the aside, gleefully keeping the audience posted as each component of his plot unfolds. Jeff Driggers as the Fool goes for a post-modern interpretation, less a jester and more a wickedly sarcastic adviser to the King.  Scholars have always debated why the Fool disappears halfway through the play; one possibility is that the same boy actor also played Cordelia, but Khoury has a fascinating alternative answer.  Tracy Steele does good work as Kent, although the role needs more of a grizzled Sean Connery/Liam Neeson figure, while Steele suggests a handsome young knight as played by Bradley Cooper or Ryan Reynolds. Among the supporting cast, in general, the smaller the role, the less proficient and/or experienced the actor appears, but as above, not a word is missed, and every syllable on stage is clearly understood.

Lee Shepherd's set design is simple, stark, and effective, consisting of stone architecture and flying buttresses that place the setting in ancient times, and giant wooden double doors that not only make for grand entrances, but also give the actors plenty of room to wait unseen before entering. Alexis Doktor's costumes for the principals, especially Lear's nuclear family and Edmund, are appealing and sumptuously detailed, incorporating rich shades of purple and crimson along with black.  I suspect half the audience was dying to know where she found the incredible fabrics, although the attire of some of the supporting cast looked more like pajamas. Bloom doubles as fight choreographer, and although some of the cast need a few more days in stage combat boot camp, his own duel with William Cavitt (as Gloucester's noble son Edgar) is impressive:  Edmund draws two shortswords or long knives to attack his brother, and the possibilities with two combatants, three weapons and four hands are almost limitless.

King Lear continues Wednesday 10/22 through Saturday 10/25 in the amphitheater in Finlay Park. If you're going, be sure to take folding chairs or comfy cushions, a picnic basket if you're inclined, and a blanket or jacket in case the weather turns colder. Curtain is at 7:30 PM, right as night falls, so grab hold of the railing as you navigate the stairs to your seat.  Also, assume it's a manifestation of Lear's delusion if random park patrons and passers-by accidentally wander onto the fringes of the stage.  (The City really needs to station a few of those Yellow Shirt guys to ensure that doesn't happen again.)  The play has challenged students in classrooms for centuries, so you owe it to yourself to see this excellently-realized rendition of a classic. It's easy to follow, thrilling to watch, and c'mon - it's Shakespeare in the Park, which gives our little town and all of us in it some big city arts cred.


Strong Acting Drives Trustus Theatre's The Other Place

Review by August Krickel

In Sharr White's play The Other Place, running through Saturday, Nov. 1 in the Trustus Side Door Theatre, nothing is guaranteed to be real. Juliana is a confident, eloquent (if slightly acerbic) professional, presenting at a symposium on drugs for the treatment of dementia. Or possibly she is a patient being given a mental status exam. She may have brain cancer, her oncologist husband may be divorcing her, and the doctor examining her may be his mistress, and/or colleague. Her daughter may have disappeared a decade earlier, and/or be happily married to Juliana's former research assistant. A reunion of mother and daughter may be imminent at the family's vacation home on Cape Cod (the titular "other place"), or it may have been sold long ago.  While the audience will probably guess what's really going on long before it's completely explained, The Other Place offers compelling performances by its cast in an intimate, 50-seat venue, and touches on familiar issues that are increasingly important in today's society.

As Juliana, Erica Tobolski is always on stage, and has the lion's share of the lines in this long one-act. (The show runs perhaps 80 minutes with no intermission, so grab a beverage and/or visit the facilities beforehand.) It's an acting tour-de-force, as she journeys through pivotal emotional moments in her life, jumping quickly from narrator to participant. The strength of her performance when she is in control makes moments of vulnerability all the more poignant. Particularly moving is a scene where we see what led her teenage daughter to run away, and a scene of reconciliation that is actually something else entirely, although still satisfying. Bryan Bender, as her husband Ian, serves mainly as a foil for Juliana, alternating between concern and frustration, but he and Tobolski have a nice chemistry that makes them believably three-dimensional as a married couple. Jennifer Moody Sanchez plays multiple roles, and is particularly effective as the doctor; while her delivery is underplayed and understated, we understand every word and every implication, no matter how softly she speaks. Two other scenes with Tobolski are just painful to see, but in a good way, as raw human emotions are on full display, and both performers wring every drop of pathos from the material. G. Scott Wild has the least time on stage, but speaks volumes with the pauses and breaks and exasperated sighs in between lines like "Errr...." and "ummm..."

The set by Brandon McIver and director Jim O'Connor is basic, and O'Connor effectively moves his cast around every inch of the available space. Jeremy Polley is credited for Sound Design, but whoever was running sound deserves much praise, as there are a lot of little cues (phones ringing, music being played) that are timed perfectly. Jean Gonzalez Lomasto's costumes are similarly basic and appropriate, although I must say that Tobolski's suit is just gorgeous.  The playwright and director O'Connor take what is fairly common (realistic vignettes concerning illness and family dysfunction) and use stage conventions (actors in multiple roles, segues in time and location with no change of costume or scenery) to create something more. Flashbacks and flash-forwards are commonplace now, in everything from Highlander to Lost to those commercials where a woman wonders what other bad choices she has made, but they are used well here, contributing to the idea that the narrative is less reliable than we initially think. Had this play been written a century ago by Pirandello, its exploration of what is reality would have been ground-breaking. Nowadays we have seen similar themes many times before, and so this work's appeal lies in the immediacy of actors doing good work only a few feet in front of you, and in the high quality of their performance. I suspect that the more these characters' experiences reflect episodes from your own life and family, the likelier you are to connect with the play's themes. Still, for me, the actors were what made this an enjoyable production.





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