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Good Acting in Noise Within's 'Lear'

October 15, 1994|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sabin Epstein's staging of "King Lear," which opens A Noise Within's fall season of rotating repertory in Glendale, is a workhorse production--sometimes a muscular, sleek Belgian, pulling the enormous weight of Shakespeare's attenuated drama without a quiver; sometimes a broken-down old nag threatening to drop in its tracks. However, for all its faults--and they are many--this "Lear" has staying power.

So does Neil Vipond, an actor mature enough to convincingly capture Lear's descent from robustness to frailty, yet vigorous enough to meet the prodigious physical demands of the role (notwithstanding a hint of Bill Clinton throat on opening night). Vipond's most impressive feat is finding the irony, even the laughter, between the lines of his archetypally tragic monologues. Sometimes more querulous than pitiable, Vipond overbalances the delicate blend of residual majesty and pathos that would make him a great Lear, but he is certainly a good Lear, one with comic timing, no less.

The cast is consistently competent, but along with Vipond, the acting honors go to Deborah Strang and Jenna Cole, who play Goneril and Regan as simmering, face-clawing vixens straight out of an Aaron Spelling series. Teflon actresses, these two never get stuck in Epstein's sometimes plodding pace, and even glide serenely through the play's most overblown moments, in which they fling themselves at the men in their orbit like oversexed mud wrestlers.

Seemingly intent upon idiot-proofing his Shakespearean interpretation, Epstein reaches into his bag of tricks too frequently. One of his less successful gimmicks is the double-casting of Ann Marie Lee as both the Fool and Cordelia. Lee's Cordelia is more successful, but the conceit behind this double-casting remains murky.

The theater, currently in the process of a massive upgrade, features jury-rigged seating that was only OKd by city inspectors within days of opening night. Perhaps last-minute alterations in the seating arrangement might account for heavily shod actors frequently pounding within inches of the front-row patrons' toes, a persistent distraction.

Bill Eigenbrodt's minimalist set consists primarily of an enormous, crown-like circlet that hangs above the actors. Swathed in silver fabric, the circlet is doubtless intended to convey the weight of majesty and the circular workings of fate, but instead gives the odd, anachronistic impression that it has been covered with foil.

Like the production itself, Roxanne Femling's costumes are a mixed bag, often handsome, especially in the court attire of the royals, most particularly Goneril and Regan. However, Femling's use of gold and silver-flecked synthetics as accent notes seems jarringly modern, as does the all-black garb of the ensemble, who resemble hooded Ninja assassins.

* "King Lear," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Plays in rotating repertory. Call for days and times. Ends Dec. 11. $17-$19. (818) 546-1924. Running time: 3 hours, 35 minutes.

'Powerless' Search for Power at Coast

"Power of the Powerless" at the Coast is intended to be a riveting drama about the insidious effects of racial hatred and the endemic bias against Latinos in American society. Written and directed by Martha Velez, the play is well-meaning but misguided.

The gentle Marco (Del Zamora), an illegal Latino day laborer, scraps for whatever jobs he can get to support his wife and sprawling brood of kids back in Mexico. The embittered Jarvis (Nathan LeGrand), a racist white, has lost his wife and kids to divorce and his highly paid job to his own splenetic temper. The men, who meet while vying for minimum wage jobs on a Los Angeles street corner, clash a little, bond a lot, face adversity together and profoundly change each other forever.

It's a promising concept that Velez hammers into mush. Velez's characters are cardboard, her dialogue painfully reiterative, her plot just plain sloppy. The play is over-acted and under-directed, with florid performances and painfully pregnant pauses; when the actors aren't chewing the scenery they are evidently forgetting their lines.

Those trapped in the audience of "Power of the Powerless" are the truly powerless.--F.K. F.

* "Power of the Powerless," Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 30. $18-$20. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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