Like magicians in a traveling circus, PURE Theatre is on the move again, conjuring its charms at each and every stop. Fresh from their run of Superior Donuts at the former Dance FX studio (which I performed in), PURE is working out of the Charleston Ballet Theatre as they present The Fool’s Lear, an all-new original work that takes a second look at two famous Shakespearean characters.
Real life siblings Randy and Grant Neale star as King Lear and his fool, respectively, fresh from the pages of the notable play by the Bard and brought to wonderful life before our eyes. The play follows them as they contemplate life, death, love, madness, and family, all while navigating the infamous events of their last days. Randy Neale (who wrote the script) brings these two characters to perhaps greater levels of realism than his predecessor did, imbuing them with a vulnerability and compassion that they lack in the other story.
Grant Neale (who served as director) is a whirlwind as the fool. From his first five steps onstage to his final bow, Grant performs with more energy and vitality than anyone you’ve ever seen play Puck or Peter Pan. I was worn out for him after just 10 minutes of his performance, and he maintains that incredible pace throughout. Randy’s Lear seems almost asleep on his feet in comparison.
Scenic design by Angela Lucido and Ron Erickson leaves the focus on the king and his knave, but it also helps to tell their story. The set pieces are oversized props (a “throne” and large chest) with a simple backdrop that is used to comedic effect. Lights (with consultation from Richard Currie) shift to depict the time of day and also, in a few places, when we are leaving the imagined world of Randy’s original piece and entering the text of William Shakespeare. These elements all turn the spotlight on the two actors.
And attention must be paid, because this is a heavy piece. Though jokes abound by way of the fool, this is far from a comedy. Instead, the audience becomes privy to the relationship behind Lear and his fool, diving deep into characters you thought you knew. And you need to know King Lear before standing a chance of properly enjoying Fool’s Lear. This is not a No Fear Shakespeare version of the play, but what could be thought of as deleted scenes for those craving more understanding.
Understanding is the thing these two fools are looking for, both from each other and the world that has forsaken them. There are shadows of Waiting for Godot here: two characters looking for some rescue that will never come. And what’s worse: they know it. It may even be sadder here, because we already know how it all ends for the pair (seriously, go read King Lear if you haven’t).
The Fool’s Lear, if you haven’t picked it up yet, is a dense piece. It deals with large issues and themes and ideas. It is somber to the core. Even its humor is sad. But despite this, the fool just keeps on joking. So does this play, and so too does PURE. In another new home, in a hard year for theater, they keep on joking and keep giving us things to think about. Just like Lear’s fool.