This dense, sometime mysterious new work at P.S.122 proves to be an impressive exploration of King Lear.
Not surprisingly, the show can be disorientingly dense -- especially in the beginning as fragments of scenes unfold in rapid fire, switching between the text of Lear, children performing the play in a sort of mythical limbo, and the characters of the play undergoing psychoanalysis. (Not to mention dealing with a complex soundscape featuring a handful of disembodied voices.)
Because there's no map, the show creates an interesting challenge to audience members not unlike a treasure hunt. We have the clues and we know the information is out there, but the real work comes in putting it all together.
Like in his last show, Three Pianos, Burkhardt is at his best when contemplating big artistic questions like the meaning and purpose of catharsis -- how it came from a medical definition that meant to physically excrete and how it's now often distorted in modern reference and perhaps irrelevant to the modern theater. These ruminations become more present midway through, when the central conceit of the show (children trapped inside an abandoned school take refuge from an undefined war by performing King Lear) gives way to a more profound cultural discovery, examining Lear foremost as a person.
One of the more moving scenes involves Lear being confronted by his therapist about his decision to put his daughters on trial. Burkhardt plays the therapist who asks prodding questions about a trial's effectiveness, the unwanted public attention, and the inevitable spectacle. Lear's words are choked by his rage, and it's through this expression of the inexpressible that we begin to glimpse into the fallen king's journey.
Conversely, a scene with a talking hardcover-bound copy of Learis a whimsical piece of comic relief that serves the dual purpose of discussing differences in scenes between different editions of the play.