The actors are very good, but the real star of Young Jean Lee’s “Lear” is designer Roxana Ramseur, whose glorious Elizabethan costumes animate the tiny Soho Rep stage. David Evans Morris’s throne-room set is pretty fabulous too.
Writer-director Lee, a 35-year-old native of Seattle, abandoned a doctoral dissertation on “King Lear” to join New York’s experimental theater community, of which she is now a leading light. Here she transforms Shakespeare’s masterwork into a meditation on aging, grief and death, as spoken by the surviving children of Lear and Gloucester.
You’ve seen productions of Shakespeare in modern dress. This show is the opposite: The visual landscape is utterly Elizabethan, but the language and attitudes are contemporary. Channeling self-help manuals and pornography, “Sesame Street” and teen slang, Lee creates five shallow, neurasthenic, self-absorbed figures coming to terms with the loss of their fathers. Never mind that they’ve essentially murdered the old guys.
Powerful African-American women (April Mathis, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Amelia Workman) play Lear’s daughters, a fact that figures not at all in the unfolding of the piece. The men (Paul Lazar and Pete Simpson) are basically jerks. And all are trying to deal with their treatment of their elders.
Lee is unsparing as she skewers her characters—or lets them skewer themselves. It’s at once funny and totally depressing — meaning it’s not surprising it’s basically sold out.
Through Feb. 5
Soho Repertory Theatre
46 Walker St., $20-$50