Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re going to see “Lear” because you liked “King Lear,” you should probably stay home. The very, very loose adaptation has about as much to do with Shakespeare’s iconic drama as the Earl of Gloucester has to do with Big Bird…but we’ll get there later. If you’re into fantastic acting and experimental theater, however, it’s certainly worth the trip to Single Carrot.
The play takes place in the period in which Lear himself (who never appears on stage) is stuck in the storm, instead focusing on his daughters Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan, as well as Gloucester’s sons Edmund and Edgar. The characters are parodies of the Millennial generation, massively vain and self-absorbed, touting Buddhism and other trendy ways of thinking to absolve them of any guilt over the fate of their fathers. Older generations may find it funny and reflective of their own perceptions, but as a Millennial, it mostly felt like the same out-of-touch broadbrushing to which my generation is frequently subjected.
What was funny, however, was the absolute outlandishness of the characters, spouting speeches full of non sequitur and committing to physical gags wholeheartedly while questioning the meaning of existence. As the play goes on, the scenes devolve into absolute chaos then stop, extremely abruptly, before making such a hard left that you might find yourself wondering, as I did, if this was how it had originally been written.
I won’t give it away, but prepare yourself to be scratching your head for the last quarter or so of the show, unsure what to think or feel. The disparate elements at the show’s end aren’t completely unrelated, but it definitely takes some thoughtful analysis post-curtain to parse the play’s themes. I was so bewildered by the strange show, in fact, that I looked up the reviews of its 2010 debut in the “New Yorker” and “New York Times.” They weren’t positive.
What, then, makes this artful mess worth the watch? The acting is phenomenal. Single Carrot’s cast is so compelling that you want to ride along the nonsensical romp, and despite its oddities, some scenes are so touching that you might, as the many people I saw in the hallway post-production, find yourself weeping openly. The set, too, is masterful, a sort of lush wonderland befitting of the otherworldly action it hosts. And lastly, sometimes it’s nice to throw yourself into something profoundly strange and deeply at odds with day-to-day decorum. As one Lear actor muses in the midst of dramatic disaster, “we enjoy watching horrible things.”
Young Jean Lee’s “Lear” plays at Single Carrot through Oct. 29.