Los Angeles Theater Review: KING LEAR (Porters of Hellsgate)

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by Jason Rohrer on January 7, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


By placing himself in the charge of his fickle children, old King Lear abandons the security of his own reason to wander an inhospitable wilderness.  It’s a fitting metaphor for a venerable script at the mercy of a production lacking the chops to do it justice, and for an audience perched for three hours upon some of the least forgiving chairs in any theater in the world.

Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of Porters of Hellsgate's KING LEAR, Los AngelesIn my experience, a Porters of Hellsgate show is an earnest conglomeration of youthful optimism and amateur-hour doldrums.  A prime factor in this is that a good many of the company members can’t act.  The company’s loyalty to these actors is impressive, but it doesn’t do any favors to those of them who can effectively convey character and emotion.  That the company places personality above the deserts of a paying public is intolerable in this, a production that may be called professional inasmuch as it charges admission.

A larger problem with the Porters’ new King Lear is that director Thomas Bigley, who very nicely acted the part of Odysseus in last season’s Troilus and Cressida, here seems at a loss for good ideas and good reasons.  In updating the story of a feudal king’s self-destruction, Mr. Bigley dresses his players in modern business suits and loads his battle scenes with audible machine-gun fire; one character briefly uses a cell phone.  Yet the characters in this anachronistic staging also duel with rapiers and stake their fortunes on Shakespeare’s notoriously unreliable hand-Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of Porters of Hellsgate's KING LEAR, Los Angelesdelivered notes rather than instant text-messages, which as any telecommunications user knows could also go astray as the plot dictates.  This lack of imagination places the director at a greatest disadvantage in his finest moment: the famous third-act storm, in which Lear wanders raging and bereft, benefits from this production’s single gesture of theatricality,  organically-generated raindrop noises swelling under the action.  But this welcome piece of ingenuity arrives awkwardly after over an hour of uninterrupted realism; following the storm, no similar device breaks up the extremely prosaic presentation; and even those handmade raindrops are abetted by prerecorded wind and thunder.  The show is built of such half-measures.  Why, with so few conceptual decisions behind it, this play was chosen to be put up, is another question not answered on the boards of the Studio Stage.

Since most of the actors appear to be in different shows, one may conclude that the directorial advice they received was either not very good or not very much.  And although this production features three ringers, actors who could not be bad if you paid them to do it, they are each of them on their own.  Larry Cedar, as the ruined king, has a tongue as nimble as his legs.  He doesn’t stumble once on some of the Jason Rohrer's Stage and Cinema review of Porters of Hellsgate's KING LEAR, Los Angeleschoicest syllables in Shakespeare, and he fairly dances his way through the mad scenes; it’s all very committed, if somewhat musical-theater-y.  Leon Russom, the reason I go to see any play featuring Leon Russom, plays Gloucester as a weary bureaucrat who more or less deserves his awful fate; it’s a solid and touching performance.  But Jo D. Jones, as an exuberant and physical Fool, is robbed of what could have been the defining characterization of this show.  The bulk of his scenes have been cut, with the effective result that company members may stand around and mope for the entire, intact falling action.  The production, the company, and the audience are all the poorer for it.

poster design by Ian Hickey
photos by Rob Cunliffe

King Lear
The Porters of Hellsgate at The Studio Stage in Los Angeles
scheduled to end on February 9, 2013
for tickets, call (818) 325-2055 or visit Brown Paper Tickets


Robert Curtis February 11, 2013 at 8:56 am

You must have seen a different show than I did. I saw the closing night, and you saw the opening one, I suppose. I thought it was a fine, game effort all around, briskly paced, with brilliant lead performances. Larry Cedar and Leon Russom were the heart of the show and worth ten times the admission price. All the rest of the folks were at the very least competent. It seems pointless to trash such a brave effort. So few theater companies bring the classics before a live audience. Be kind to them. Encourage them. Why tear them apart like this? It’s like using a sledge hammer to squash a bluebird. I will never understand critics. They must be bullies who could not pass the police exam.

Jason Rohrer February 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Mr Curtis, I find it hurtful that you would bring up my performance on the police exam, which can hardly be considered relevant here. I was told the results would remain confidential. In my defense, I will say that I did pretty well on the squashing bluebirds section.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I agreed, prophylactically, with your assessment of my brutality:


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