That needy old man is out of the picture, wandering around somewhere out in the storm, and there's really nothing anybody can do about it. Sure, his daughters may experience occasional waves of regret or guilt, and it is a shame about "the gouging of the eyes and so forth," but what's done is done. In the end, we all end up alone, shivering in the rain—at least that's what the miserable, castle-dwelling aristocrats in Young Jean Lee's Lear keep telling themselves. She describes her very funny and very idiosyncratic new play as an "inaccurate distortion of Shakespeare's King Lear"—a wholly accurate description, as the title character doesn't even appear in her ninety minute curio. While he howls into the wind, his children pout in the parlor.
Lear is not so much a deconstruction of Shakespeare's play as it is Lee's personal study of adult children turning their backs on their senescent parents, using the story of King Lear as a springboard. The curtain rises to reveal an ornate Elizabethan court, replete with stained glass, thrones, walls sconces, and plenty of red velvet. The brilliant five person cast is clad in elaborate Elizabethan costumes, but their behavior and language is that of contemporary, petulant American brats. They have bed bugs, ruined marriages, body dysmorphia, and a history of bestiality. (But that happened in France, so c'est la vie!) Edmund and Edgar may occasionally worry about their blind father lost out there in the wilderness, while Regan and Cordelia condemn Goneril for searching for the king, but nobody's about to take responsibility.
All in all, it's a slippery, elusive hour and a half, and though her Lear is ultimately baffling, Lee's digressive script is executed with hilarious precision by her all-star ensemble, comprised of some of downtown theater's brightest minds. There are moments of soulful contemplation about the pain of watching parents move closer to death, but the dominant motif is that of eccentric, stream-of-consciousness over-sharing. In the end, the non-narrative Lear dissolves into a verbatim reenactment of the 1983 Sesame Street episode in which Big Bird learns of Mr. Hooper's death. It's as strange and unexpected as it sounds, and while Lear might defy comprehension, it's never boring or predictable.