KING LEAR; Nelke Theater, Harris Fine Arts Center, BYU Provo campus; through Oct. 5; 422-4322; running time: 50 minutes.
PROVO — BYU's Theatre for Young Audiences is presenting a children's version of Shakespeare's "King Lear," a production with some clever innovations, but a work that at times has a disconnect in the tone of acting with the seriousness of the story.
Prior to Shakespeare's interpretation of the legend of an elderly king and his three children, the play had a joyous ending with a faithful and loving daughter reuniting with her father. Shakespeare chose to examine dishonesty, disloyalty, treachery and deceit with catastrophic results, and it became the definitive tale about King Lear.
It is usually a play that has the remaining players crawling from the stage because of the bloodbath, but in the BYU show, the characters end the play and begin dancing a carefree dance. It suggests the audience is not capable of pondering what has occurred. This is the story of a family destroyed and is not a show that calls for wrapping everything up with a pretty bow.
To consider mounting "King Lear" for children's theater is a bold move, and director Christopher Clark has crafted a strong piece of theater. It is challenging to take a complex play and reduce it to 50 minutes, but the essential dialogue remains, and the essence of the story is powerful.
With the core intact, the show would be strengthened with more consistency of performance. The acting ranges from "grand Shakespearean tradition" to lighthearted, and though the work should tingle with energy, it could be more focused. This will probably come as the players mature in their roles and take it to area schools.
King Lear is a puppet — literally and figuratively. He has a painted face and a cloth body, and different actors deliver his lines as they stand behind him. The use of a puppet is an interesting and symbolic choice. As a man who gives his kingdom and wealth to his daughters at the beginning of the play, he becomes vulnerable, in a real sense, a puppet who falls prey to his elder daughters' treachery.
In the end, this "King Lear" works fine for children but has not yet matured to prompt children to ask questions beyond, "Who made your costumes?" and "Where did you get your knives?" in the question-and-answer session that follows the play.