APRIL 2018.

A 400-year-old play takes Topeka Civic Theatre by storm.

– A review of “King Lear” at Topeka Civic Theatre by William L. Domme – image by Marc Rapp –

Topeka Civic Theatre set the timeless masterpiece in the well-heeled, post-Edwardian era, notably recreated in the PBS series “Downton Abbey.” For the patron who expected to settle into the Jacobean Era for a night of high drama, the costumes – at first – were jarring. The unease subsides in short order and is replaced by the accelerating onslaught of disquiet that works to rock King Lear quite off his rocker. Directed by Shannon J. Reilly, the audience grows bedeviled by a well-crafted set (Ted Shonka, technical director) that sinks into a sort of hypnosis under the soft glare of haunting lights (Sara Myer). The storm at the height of King Lear’s maddening descent brings vigor to the actors’ performances and plays on the mind long after the final bow. A notable performance in the role of the Fool (Dylan Hart, debut performance at TCT) brings much energy to the wisdom Shakespeare hides in his wit.

And lest we be fooled by outward appearances, a breath of caution to you, may our own daughters not resemble so much Regan and Goneril, brought to life gracefully. Dangerously so.

Get thee glass eyes,
And like a scurvy politician seem
To see the things thou dost not.
—Lear, Act 4 Scene 5

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There is soon enough, as sure as a storm in Shakespearian theatre, a moment of beautiful agony upon the stage as Cornwall (Brad Voth) seeks to harm Gloucester (Thomas J. Hughes, Jr.) Gasps from the audience were audible as, one by one, Cornwall plucked vengeance from the scene. Edgar (Devan R. Garcia) disappears completely into the madman Tom O’Bedlam and throws himself around the stage with such disregard that one might seek to ready the straightjacket for the final bow should he not remove his mask before the end of Act V. Furthermore, the pure sociopathy of Edmund (Matt Briden) is handled well, inviting the audience to dwell in the house of his heartless greed as Lear’s world unravels before our eyes, thankful to have not met the wrath of Cornwall are we.

A beautiful experience and one of Shakespeare’s greatest are a compliment to the enduring quality and passion that keeps Topeka Civic Theatre well-placed in the hearts of this city. Bravo!