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Sticks, stones and bones create mystical world for Shakespeare in Delaware Park's 'King Lear'

As parental fantasies go, there's a certain appeal to the idea of disinheriting an ungrateful child.

Didn't mow the lawn like I asked? Disinherited.

"Forgot" to clean up the dishes? Sorry, you are banished to Gowanda. And your share of what's left in my 401K will go to your sisters, who we like better anyway.

Sure, it's a rash move. It's not without its consequences. But it must feel incredibly good in the moment to serve up a heaping plate of just desserts for your entitled progeny to consume in the cold light of reality.

So tempting is the fantasy that it happens twice in "King Lear," now running in Shakespeare in Delaware Park's mythical, mystical production starring Tom Loughlin as the raving king and directed by Steve Vaughn.

Any production of the play, which tells the story of a mythical king's tortured relationship to his kingdom and his daughters, holds essential lessons about the limits of arrogance, the metastatic effects of toxic masculinity and the fundamental importance of human decency above ambition or personal pride.

Men and myth merge in Delaware Park production of 'King Lear'

Vaughan set the play in a placeless place and timeless time of ritual and tribalism, where no metal exists and the manmade world consists only of wood, stone and the sun-bleached bones of animals long ago dispatched. Set designer David Dwyer has brought this vision to life with a wonderfully organic set, replete with raw wood fencing, decorative barren trees with spindly branches and structures of great logs and rough-edged stone.

Vaughan has added his own handmade weapons and instruments — handmade xylophones instead of metal percussion instruments and conch shells instead of trumpets — out of wood gathered from his Grand Island back yard.

Ken Shaw's costume design, heavy on animal skins and somewhat "Max Max"-esque especially when matched with the tribal makeup the performers wear, lends an essential element to the production's sense of ancient tribalism that seems to owe as much to Joseph Conrad as to Shakespeare.

Alas, the design elements of the production are not matched by the pace or the performances, both of which are uneven enough to prevent all but the most attentive theatergoers from grasping the labyrinthine turns of this particularly serpentine plot.

As Lear, Tom Loughlin starts off as a tightly wound package of smugness and preternatural arrogance, unraveling bit by bit into the bare-chested image of the insane king we've come to know. His performance is technically on point and it hits all the expected notes, but the soul of the character too rarely seeps to the surface.

A standout supporting performance comes from Lisa Ludwig as the impossibly cruel Regan, which serves as stark contrast to Marissa Biondolillo's straightforward and sensitive Cordelia. Dave Marciniak shines as the good-hearted Kent, and Norm Sham gives us a rare and impressive dramatic turn as Gloucester. Adam Yellen is in fine form (is he ever not?) as the tortured Edgar, Gloucester's "illigitimate" son who disguises himself as a madman.

Kevin Craig, as Lear's impossibly energetic fool, has perhaps the most difficult task aside from Loughlin. Most of Shakespeare's jokes, to put it mildly, have not dated well. And so they require an incredibly gifted physical comedian able to inject enough contemporary behaviors and comic cues into the performance to bring the Bard's humor somewhere close to this century. Craig is brilliant at this, and his performance is a joy to watch.

Alas, the pacing plods enough and some key performances are tentative enough that the threads of Shakespeare's telling of the classic myth sometimes disappear, Lear-like, into the heath.

Even so, the excellent production design and Vaughan's smart concept grounds us in a special place and time. With more performances, the impact of this incredible tale will only deepen.

Theater review

"King Lear," a Shakespeare in Delaware Park production

Where: Shakespeare Hill, near the Delaware Park Rose Garden.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 4).

When: Runs through July 15 on Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m.

Admission: Free.

More info: Call 856-4533 or visit shakespeareindelawarepark.org.

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