Lear Sans Lear 

Central Works uses Shakespeare as a comedic jumping-off point.

It's appropriate that Central Works' revival of Every Inch a King opened the same weekend that King Lear closed at Cal Shakes. Company playwright Gary Graves' comedy is essentially Lear without Lear, in which the only characters onstage are his three daughters. Dad's in the other room, occasionally thumping on the wall, but we never see him.

There are plenty of tidbits in Graves' script for the Shakespeare geek to savor, but ultimately the whole Lear thing is a jumping-off point rather than any kind of adaptation. An audience member who doesn't recognize the title as a line from Lear might wonder what it has to do with the play.

What's funny about this comedy has more to do with particular character moments than the plot, which doesn't come to much. The three sisters assemble at the family home to discuss what to do with Dad, whom eldest daughter Gwen is caring for after his severe stroke, and the prospect of selling their land to Disney for an ultra-planned community like Celebration USA.

The sisters are three distinct types: Rae, the hard-nosed businesswoman; Leah, the new age hippie; and Gwen, a childlike "old maid" who probably dots her i's with hearts. Rica Anderson and Sandra Schlechter reprise their roles from the original production at La Val's Subterranean in 2002, and Jan Zvaifler, who directed the play's premiere, steps into the role of middle sister Rae while playwright Graves directs.

Schlechter is a bundle of nerves as chirpy Gwen, turning her head and shushing anytime she or anyone else mentions their mother. Anderson is amusingly flighty as youngest sister Leah, who's adopted Native American spirituality, particularly when she starts chanting, gyrating, and ululating, which is not infrequently. Rae is all about the money, and Zvaifler is accordingly brusque and straightlaced, showing uncomfortable incredulity with Leah and a Mephistophelean smile when they finally get down to business. The sisters share a palpable fragility and touchiness that sets them quickly at each other's throats.

The intimate Berkeley City Club space works well for the run-down Leroy house, with duct-taped upholstery and cobwebbed taxidermy making up Chad Owens' set. Tammy Berlin's costumes aptly accentuate the sisters' differences, and Gregory Scharpen's ominous music and sound effects underscore the genres of suspense the play toys with before finally settling on comedy.


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