‘King Lear’

Actors’ NET of Bucks County presents Shakespeare’s tragedy with all its intrigue and gore.

By: Stuart Duncan


Actors’ NET of Bucks County in Morrisville, Pa. is offer King Lear through April 28.

   It’s absolutely astonishing how, time after time, Actors’ NET of Bucks County can take the most intricate of shows, adapt them to its small stage in Morrisville, Pa., trim off the excess fat and come up with definitive productions, focused clearly on making far more sense of the writing than believed possible.
   This has been especially true with acknowledged classics — last year a Hamlet that put many others to shame, and The Lion In Winter, staged earlier this season with spice and passion seldom seen.
   Now, probably the most difficult of all, King Lear, offered with all its intrigue and gore intact, three-and-a-half-hours-plus of some of the best of the English language, alive and completely within our grasp. Yes, Shakespeare’s tragedy is absolutely astonishing.
   The most surprising thing you will find is how few of the details you will remember, although you may well have read, indeed studied, the play as a student or even seen a production. It may come as a shock to you that the scenes include an eye-gouging episode (on stage) that rivals any that Webster might have written, even in The Duchess of Malfi. And you may well not remember that the final curtain arrives with a stage littered with dead bodies, including the King and his favorite daughter. Shakespeare, it appears, was not squeamish.
   The Actors’ NET company is virtually a repertory group of the finest actors in the area. Many by now have become familiar. Mort Paterson, for example, makes the shift from Hamlet’s Polonius to Lear seem entirely natural, retaining the dignity and confusion. His is a performance that aims for the mind as well as the heart. George Hartpence slips from the title role in Hamlet into the person of the black-hearted Edmund, illegitimate son of Gloucester, with obvious relish. Next month, he will play King Arthur in Camelot and likely we will have difficulty remembering his evil demeanor.
   Carol Thompson apparently enjoys playing gowned heroines: Gwendoline in Becket, now the abused Cordelia and next month, Queen Guenevere. Susan Blair played Henry Higgins’ gentle housekeeper in My Fair Lady. Here, she sharpens her fangs as Goneril.
   Steve Lobis is certainly a strong character actor — Geoffrey in The Lion In Winter; the Archbishop of Canterbury, senility and all, in Becket; and now Kent, both as the character and in disguise. Newcomer Jim Ludovici makes an impressive debut as the Duke of Albany. Theresa Forsyth-Swartz is a chilling Regan. Her real-life husband, David Swartz, has his finest role in years as Earl of Gloucester.
   Cheryl Doyle has directed with clarity, emphasizing the meaning at all times. The evening is admittedly long, with a single intermission, but it is taut and you will never be bored.
   Be advised that the theater is small. King Lear will be a sellout. Plan accordingly. Also, while you are at it, think about reserving for Camelot, which plays May 16-June 2 and already is almost half sold.
King Lear continues at The Heritage Center, 635 N. Delmorr Ave., Morrisville, Pa., through April 28. Performances: Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 6 p.m. Tickets cost $15; seniors/children $13. For information, call (215) 428-0217. On the Web: hometome.aol.com/actorsnet