deLEARious is a madcap musical mash-up, a tortured, zany comedy that runs three story lines (with subplots) all at the same time. First you have a playwright, played, in a cunning piece of casting, by playwright Ron West, a one-man powerhouse who also collaborated on the book, music and lyrics with Phil Swann. And he directs the production as well. The character of the playwright named, serendipitously, Ron, is a drinker who auditions unlikely performers—his dentist, for example, a stripper and other odd, yet well sung performers—for a show he has yet to write. The show he has in mind has a convoluted plot (story line number two) about William Shakespeare (Scott Mosenson) collaborating on the writing of King Lear with the newly crowned King James I (played by Chase Studinski as a wonderfully arch poseur). The mercurial James also demands that the bard assist in the translation of what will come to be known as the King James Bible, a fraught collaboration with a bunch of contentious clerics. Story line number three is, of course, the actual King Lear (played by the indefatigable Ron West in the title role) with a few hilarious tweaks tossed in for laughs by the unfocussed Playwright as he moves ahead with the auditions. The splendid, collective ensemble all play multiple roles in each of the story lines, noted in the program as taking place in an Office in Los Angeles, 2017; London/Oxford, 1603; and England, 60 A. D.
It is the story of King Lear that is the big dog in this opus and it is amazing how much of the original is intact—the king’s foolish retirement and the splitting of his kingdom, his ill treatment by his traitorous daughters, Goneril (Robyn Roth) and Regan (Rachel Addington), his foolish scorning of his faithful youngest daughter, Cordelia (Gina Manziello), his encroaching feebleness, the famous cursing of the storm on the moors, his mad scene—it’s all there. The major characters are intact—faithful Kent (Ramón Garcia), gullible old Gloucester (Mr. Mosenson), his two sons, noble Edgar (Micah Watterson), and the villainous Edmund (the brilliant singer Jason Paige), and the smack-talking Fool (Chris Farah). The rest of hard working cast take two, three or more roles. They are Lane Allison, George Pete Caleodis, Kiley Eberhardt, Brendan Hunt, Conor Lane, Rama Vallury, Micah Watterson, and Amanda Weier.
Make no mistake, deLEARious is a singing, dancing, musical extravaganza. The singing is righteous and the dancing fast and furious. Musical Director, Jan Roper at the piano, is the lynch pin of the entire enterprise. Her playing is flawless and her bitter, aggrieved relationship with the Playwright is tart and spicy. Kudos!
Director Ron West knows his show and keeps the action fast and the pace furious. As for the energetic, over-the-top dance routines, the director and the cast choreographed the show. The simple, open scenic design by Jim Spencer, with lighting by Ellen Monocroussos, is ideal. Liam Carl is the graphics designer, and properties are the purview of Bruce Dickinson and Ina Shumaker. Jennifer Palumbo is the stage manager, Amanda Weier is the production manager, and Martha Demson produces for Open Fist Theatre Company.
It occurs to me that a certain level of schema regarding Shakespeare in general and King Lear in particular, as well as a passing familiarity with King James and his bible, would be useful in appreciating some of the nuances of deLEARious. As is the case generally, the more you know, the more you get. I am pretty certain that the crowd paying a penny to stand in the pit of the Globe Theatre watching the first production of any Shakespeare play didn’t get all the highfalutin language, but they sure loved the action. Trust me, you can’t fail to have a good time at the Open Fist production of deLEARious. I would leave the younger kids home, though. For older teens, there is nothing they haven’t seen or heard.
deLEARious runs through December 16 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles.