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REVIEW: King Lear: Come With Coffee, Stay for Heartbreak (Guthrie Theater)

King Lear (Stephen Yoakam), now half-mad, is accosted by a pair of soldiers (Tyler Miller, left, and Kevin Gotch, right). Photo by T Charles Erickson.

Armin Shimerman (The Fool) and Stephen Yoakam (King Lear) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of King Lear, by William Shakespeare and directed by Joseph Haj. Scenic design by Marion Williams, costume design by Jennifer Moeller, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton. February 11 – April 2, 2017 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

The Fool (Armin Shimerman) looks on as King Lear (Stephen Yoakam) descends into madness. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

Stephen Yoakam’s King Lear will make you forget all about his deliciously evil Iago of three seasons’ past. Over the course of an evening he will make you hate his character, sympathize with him, and mourn with him. It’s not the only tour-de-force performance in the Guthrie’s new staging of Shakespeare’s King Lear, but it’s the one that will have you crying at the end and linger the longest.

Not that the others don’t try to give Yoakam a run for their money. Back during auditions, Joseph Haj had so much trouble deciding between Yoakam and Nathaniel Fuller that Haj cast both as King Lear in alternating performances. Within a given performance, however, the contender is Thomas Brazzle as Edmund. Brazzle has a gift for riveting villainous monologues, making his onstage appearances always something to look forward to.

There is a lot of exposition to get through in this lengthy play, so make sure to have some coffee before tackling an evening show. After intermission, the pace picks up as alliances unravel and atrocities mount. Watching stage sisters Regan (Sun Mee Chomet) and Goneril (Kate Nowlin) snipe and conspire against each other is no small part of the entertainment.

Come for the tragedy, stay for the villainy. Rejoice in the standing up to cruel authority.

King Lear plays through April 2 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine