Dallas — Prism Movement Theater turns its wordless sights on the master of the English language with Lear, as part of the Theatre Too season at Theatre Three. Adapter and choreographer Katie Tye has reduced the cast to Lear, The Fool and the three daughters. Under Jeff Colangelo’s direction, they set out to create a “pastiche of the family drama that is King Lear.” With minimal set and props like a Radio Flyer wagon, rag dolls and plastic crown, the evening feels like an ambitious sleepover skit with equal parts play-pretend and pretension.
The opening is a retirement party of sorts with the cast mixing and mingling with the audience through gesture and mumbles of expression that stop short of language. It’s the sort of thing extras on set do when the director doesn’t want the audience distracted from the central action.
Only this is the central action.
Bethany Burnside and Iv Amenti in dance-wear dresses whisper and giggle as Kwame David Lilly, with flashing eyes and an iron ring around his neck, does magic tricks. Allison Morris, as the good daughter, hands out programs. Everything awaits Marianne Galloway’s entrance as Lear.
Knowledge of the source material has its pros and cons.
There’s comfort in recognizing scenarios like the opening where Lear demands that the daughters convey their love for their monarch, which in this case must be achieved through dance. At the same time, the loss of the text means saying goodbye to the poetry. Combined with the loss of so many characters, it also means bidding farewell to much of the plot, as well.
On the other hand, ignorance allows the bliss of enjoying the evening as its own creation.
For instance, in this iteration, the sisters each get a dance solo in front of their queen. Katie Tye and Beth Lipton’s choreography make each are distinct, beautiful and impressive enough that Cordelia’s simple gestures of love and respect are found wanting and she is sent away. She has to assume an identity to get by. Allison Morris’s dance conveys all of this and wins the audience’s sympathy. Meanwhile, when Lear and The Fool visit the sisters they are thrown out, once for being untidy and once for being too loud.
The relationship between The Fool and Lear is a bright spot in the evening.
Mr. Lilly takes his job of cheering up Ms. Galloway personally. Often he can find her through music. A simple refrain courtesy of composer Ivan Dillard provides an excellent moment of agreement between the two. To her credit, Galloway provides Lilly with a real task with real pain to assuage, but she isn’t immovable. When the disguised daughter character played by Morris joins the two there is hope. After they perform a trial of the rag doll representations of the daughters, there is a reveal/recognition scene that is deeply satisfying. When the characters raise a sign that reads intermission, an audience member said a little too loudly, “How can they have an intermission when the show is over?”
With no knowledge of the source material, there is nothing left to accomplish. They’ve solved the “family drama.” The catch-22 is that knowledge of the original play will only further muddy the waters as the plot and characters have been so mixed up and paired down. It plays like a greatest hits medley. There’s Lear going mad in a storm punctuated with hide-and-go-seek lazzi. Regan and Goneril get together, conspire and fall out. Lear is blinded. The ending contains an everyone- dies sword fight worthy of Hamlet. It’s up to Galloway to land the whole affair, which she does with the powerful emotion of a grieving parent.
And then, she speaks some lines of the play.
It’s a stunning change late in the game. Having come so far without words, it’s debatable whether they are needed to complete this creation. Regardless, their power is amplified by their expansion into the vacuum of their absence.
It could be argued that the preceding evening’s efforts provide the only true way to hear those lines with that much power.
On that score, job well done.