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A CurtainUp Review
Lear's Fool
What are you on about, Fool? — Lear

About you, great king. As ever, my story, my life, revolves around you. For you, majesty, are the sun and I am but a tiny moon in your constellation.— Fool
Fools Lear
Grant Neale and Craig Smith Photo by Gerry Goodstein
The latest wrinkle in this year of Lears is Grant Neale's Lear's Fool, a two-hander now running at the Wild Project under the auspices of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble and Nomad Theatrical Company. It casts new light on the work by allowing us to see the Fool's view of Lear and all the sorry events that unfold after Lear entrusts his kingdom to the wrong daughters.

Randy Neale,created this project with himself and his brother Grant Neale in mind as its two principals. He felt that his actor brother, who had been a member of the notable Jean Cocteau Rep that staged the classics at the East Village's Bouwerie Lane Theatre, was well-equipped to play Lear's Fool. His dramatic instincts proved right over time as critics gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Neale's staging which toured three states in the Summer 2011.

Te curren productaion hasn't gotten the attention of Lears at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (with Frank Langella) or at the new Polonsky Shakespeare Center (with the British actor Michael Pennington). But Lear's Fool manages to hold its own.

This two-character bersion boils down to Lear and the Fool's imagined conversations within the walls of the palace, and without. The two characters are interpreted with realism and compassion, and one sees a great deal of comedic physicality which saves the work from becoming too heavy-handed or pretentious. It also hammers home how Lear and the Fool's friendship ultimately crosses over from tickling laughter to tears, and from nonsensical entertainment to a deep and profound tragedy.

One of the turning points is when the Fool points out to Lear that his banishment of Cordelia cannot be undone: "I have no jest for this, noncle. YOU have writ the story, now WE must live it out, noncle." Neale's scaled-down Lear might seem feather light at first blush, but it certainly forces one to see the full weight of the tragedy by its finale.

Two-handers demand two strong actors and Neale is up to the task of revealing the comedy within the tragedy and Smith is capable of portraying the old lunatic king. Though this is a play that brings Lear and the Fool's tragic fate to the fore, it also ends up being a profound meditation on the entire play, largely because of the versatility of Neale and Smith's acting.

One doesn't get the whole play here, and the sweeping grandeur of the original is missing. But the Fool comes into sharper relief with all of his candor, wit, and wisdom. And it allows one to pause and see why he is so utterly necessary to Shakespeare's bleakest and epic-like tragedy.

Lear's Fool is being presented in repertory with Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet and Cahoot's Macbeth at the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble's as part of their Tenth Anniversary Spring Rep Festival. br>
Lear's Fool
Written and directed by Grant Neale
Cast: Craig Smith (Lear), Grant Neale (The Fool).
Sets: Grant Neale
Costumes: Ramona Ponce
Music: Katie Down
Lighting: Jay Ryan
Puppet design: Corey Antiel
Stage Manager: Mark Brystowski
The Wild Project, at 195 East 3rd Street (at Ave. B). Tickets: $25. Phone 212/352-310 or
From 5/05/14; opening 5/06; closing 5/25/14.
Performances: May 5, 6, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, and 17 @ 8pm; May 18 & 25 @ 3pm.
Running time: 2 hours; 15 minutes with one intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 5/6/14
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