Director Thomas Bigley has fulfilled an essential task in his modern-day mounting of “King Lear,” presented by the Porters of Hellsgate at the Studio Stage. Every “Lear” rises and falls on the performance of the actor playing Shakespeare’s eponymous king, and by casting veteran actor Larry Cedar in the role, Bigley has done himself -- not to mention Cedar -- a world of credit.
But Bigley also confronts a problem endemic in most American productions of Shakespeare -- namely, an uneven cast. Granted, it’s challenging to fill the ranks of such a character-heavy play as “Lear,” and indeed, all the performers, down to the lesser roles, are articulate and serviceable. Bigley fails, however, to adequately address the stylistic disconnect in the cast, which features performers of classically-trained stature worthy of the Old Vic alongside others whose inflections seem more typical of the east San Fernando Valley.
Still, Cedar isn't the only heavy hitter in the cast. Bigley is fortunate in his Gloucester, played by Leon Russom, another seasoned trouper who brings plenty of pathos to the role. Gus Krieger is also excellent as Gloucester’s unjustly exiled son, Edgar, who must impersonate a madman to escape his edict of death.
But when it comes to the scheming Goneril and Regan, played by Kate O’Toole and Dana DeRuyck, respectively, Bigley encourages his actors to overplay in steamy, sexualized turns that seem more appropriate to a Douglas Sirk potboiler than to Shakespeare.
There’s another bit of directorial overreach with Cedar as well, whose maddened monarch seems as lithely supple as a yoga instructor -- an interesting interpretation, to be sure, but one that divests the character of a certain degree of doddering poignancy.
“King Lear,” The Studio Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 27. Then 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Feb. 9. $20. (818) 325-2055. www.portersofhellsgate.com/. Running time: 3 hours.