Reb Fleming in "King Lear."
KING LEAR, Salt Lake Community College, South City Campus, through Nov. 17 (957-3322), running time: 150 minutes (one intermission)

If you've never seen "King Lear" played by a woman, here's your chance. Director Frank Gerrish has selected Reb Fleming for the role in Salt Lake Community College's Black Box Theater this month. He also gives her the chance to be physical.

Picture a petite Lear, in wide Annie Oakley stance, slapping her ungrateful daughter in the face. Picture a crazy Lear, with hands fluttering ineffectually. Picture a sensitive Lear, cradling the Fool to her chest, comforting the Fool as a mother comforts a child.

The parallel story of the Gloucesters — good son, bad son, blind dad — resonates in a new way when contrasted to a mom, rather than a dad, who is blind to her daughters. Gerrish also gives us an amusing female Fool in Yelena Baykova.

Some of the actors in this production are students. Some are experienced. (For example, Margo Watson plays Goneril.) Expect unevenness of ability. Also, a significant number of lines get swallowed by the storm.

Still, some of those you've never seen before turn in surprisingly nice performances. Bob Lanoue is a blustery banished Earl of Kent. Tim Maness is a satisfyingly smirky Edmund. John Lawrence does a good job with the madness of Edgar.

The set (by Jon Clark) is simple: Some black cloths, a ramp and a stone. The theater is small. Actors fall at your feet.

You marvel at the up-close goriness of Glouster's eyes. You note the lack of blood on other actors' wounds.

If you saw "King Lear" this summer at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, well, of course there is no comparison. Except that actually there is. It is fun to compare what a woman can get away with in this role of frustrated powerlessness, as compared to what a man can do. How sympathetic would we be to a man who spits in his daughter's face?

Sensitivity rating: Eyes are stabbed out and there is minor lewdness.

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