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Titan delivers a monumental ‘King Lear’

Susan Maris (c.) as Cordelia speaks with Terry Layman's Lear in the Titan Theatre Co.'s production of "King Lear." Photo courtesy Kevin Scott Thomas
TimesLedger Newspapers

Any man who offers to give his children their inheritance only after each one proclaims how much they love him would be lucky to get a tie on Father’s Day.

He also shouldn’t be surprised if a few of his heirs lie about their true feelings toward the old man.

It sounds like a story line from “Dynasty” or a Telemundo soap, but most people know it’s really one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, “King Lear.”

From Frank Langella at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, to Michael Pennington at Theatre for a New Audience to this summer’s planned Central Park production starring John Lithgow, Lear and his off-spring continue to pop up all around town,

Now for its first show as the resident company at Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Titan Theatre Co. brings its uniquely fresh take on the classics in a first-rate production that stands alongside those other recent Lears.

Director Lenny Banovez once again works his editing magic and trims “King Lear” down to a more manageable two hours show. But Banovez’s real trick is making cuts that don’t take away from the story or scuttle the Bard’s prose.

If you saw Titan’s last show, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” you already know what Banovez and his band of merry actors are capable of creating. However, unlike that last piece, “King Lear,” is not a breezy evening of theater, but a bloody tale that examines concepts of loyalty, the nature of mankind and madness.

A quick recap, Lear tells his three daughters — Goneril, Regan and Cordelia — he wants to step down from the throne and will divide the kingdom between the three of them, giving the largest portion to the one who loves him most. Goneril and Regan spout flattering lies while Cordeila offers nothing.

“Nothing can be made of nothing,” Lear tells her.

But the youngest daughter insists there is nothing to compare her love to, nor words to properly express it.

With that, Lear tosses Cordeila out, then slowly begins his descent into madness.

As Lear, Broadway veteran Terry Layman delivers a magnificent performance expressing the king’s wide range of emotions, which run from anger and vitriol to lightheartedness and joy.

Lear is an old man, made more feeble in the body and brain as the realization of what he has done — rewarded the two evil daughters and punished the only one who really loved him — becomes clear.

Layman is able to convey regalness at the onset as equally as he expresses insanity toward the end and nowhere does he make a false step or hit an unrealistic note in his thrilling performance.

The other two standouts — in a uniformly excellent cast — are Tristan Colton as the conniving Edmund and Laura Frye as the worst of the two rotten daughters, Regan.

As the illegitimate son of Gloucester, Edmund plots against his half-brother Edgar. Through lies and manipulations, Edmund succeeds in having Edgar disowned and turned out into the woods, where he becomes a wild man.

Colton, as he did in his role of John Wilkes Booth in Titan’s “This Prison Where I Live,” straddles the line between charming gentleman and maniacal villain brilliantly.

As the equally repulsive Regan, Frye effortlessly makes the transition from dutiful, albeit lying, loving daughter to murderous goon. It is a change that becomes chillingly apparent as her husband, Cornwall, lays dying and asks her to take his hand. Realizing he is of no more use to her, Regan ignores the request and walks out of the room.

Alexis Carrington would have been proud.

If You Go

“King Lear”

When: Through May 11

Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Ave. South, Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Cost: $18

Contact: (718) 760-0064

Website: www.queenstheatre.org or www.titantheatrecompany.com

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