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Friday, July 23, 2004



Classic tragedy soars with
talented cast of local actors


Dann Seki has distinguished himself in recent years playing an assortment of interesting Asian-American characters at Kumu Kahua, and at least once at Manoa Valley Theatre in a show by an Asian-American playwright. Catching Seki in the title role of "King Lear," the second presentation of the 2004 Hawaii Shakespeare Festival, is thus a rare treat in color-blind casting, and reaffirms his range and talent.

"King Lear": Presented by the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival at Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College, 8 p.m. tomorrow and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $16, $14 seniors and military, $8 students. Group rate of $12 for 10 or more tickets to one show. Tickets available at Paliku box office and UH ticket outlets. Also at 235-7433 and www.eTicketHawaii.com.

Seki gives a Po'okela Award-worthy performance as the doomed protagonist of one of Shakespeare's darkest, most heart-breaking tragedies. Accept the premise -- that an aging king would suddenly decide to retire and divide his kingdom between his three daughters, and then turn on the youngest, his favorite, banishing her for life because she declines to express her love for him as effusively as her sisters -- and everything else falls into place.

Director Harry Wong III keeps the pacing crisp as tragedy is piled upon tragedy and the body count mounts.

In the best Shakespearean tradition, Lear and the others often seem to be responding more to the playwright's commands rather than their owndesires. And so, Lear wilts as his oily-mouthed daughters, Goneril (Laura Bach Buzzell) and Regan (Taurie Kinoshita), strip him of dignity, pride and entourage. Lear is left to wander the countryside wearing little more than his underwear, accompanied only by his Fool and a mysterious man-at-arms.

Eventually he trio is joined by a "mad man" (Brent Yoshikami), Edgar, who has been sentenced to death by his father, the Earl of Gloucester (John Wat), for plotting to depose him. Edgar's "plot" is in fact a fabrication created by his illegitimate half-brother, Edmund (Mathias Maas).

So, if Lear appears to relinquish the perks due a monarch emeritus too quickly, blame the Bard, not Seki, who touches the heart with his performance once we forgive him for being so cruel to Cordelia (Annie Lipscomb), ill-considered in his treatment of Kent (Nicolas Louge), and so stupid for deciding to divide his kingdom. Seki is equally convincing as a broken old man and an imperious, fatally flawed ruler.

Maas gives an outstanding performance as the most fully developed villain. His skillful delivery of Edmund's soliloquy decrying the social prejudice against "bastards" such as himself, and the fallacy of believing in astrology, makes it one of the show's pivotal moments, and succeeds in making Edmund a sympathetic, though thoroughly evil, anti-hero.

Yoshikami likewise negotiates lengthy passages of Shakespearean dialogue with ease. Much of his agile work as Edgar's alter ego, the supposedly insane "Tom of Bedlam," comes at points where Shakespeare deemed it necessary to slow the momentum of the two interrelated tales of treachery and betrayal. This doesn't diminish its impact. Yoshikami's talent as a character actor adds substance to scenes in which Edgar seeks rapprochement with his father, and gradually evolves from fop to warrior.

Wat, another Kumu Kahua stalwart, brings energy and conviction to his portrayal of honorable but gullible Gloucester. Louge dominates several battle scenes as loyal and long-suffering Kent; Chris Doi adds a solid performance as one of the secondary villains; and Jeremy Pippin returns to HSF after his stellar performance in "Henry IV -- Part 1" last year, to contribute an effective portrayal of the Duke of Albany.

Kinoshita, best known in recent years as a proponent of improvisational theater, proves her versatility with a strong performance in a conventionally scripted role.

Lipscomb suffers beautifully as Cordelia in Act I, then returns to spend most of the show playing Lear's Fool. Wong's choice to cast Lipscomb in both roles makes sense in terms of utilizing a versatile actor, but may lead some to assume Cordelia has returned to the court in jester's garb. This doesn't seem to be Wong's intent, let alone Shakespeare's, although the Bard is rightly notorious for stories involving characters in disguise.

Much of the Fool's witty observations flew over the heads of the audience last Saturday, but perhaps the appalling human cost of Lear's misjudgment of his daughters, and Gloucester's of his sons, left them in no mood for laughter.



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