Poor, Poor Lear | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Poor, Poor Lear

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A Walkabout Theater Company reprises its debut production, a breathtaking one-woman show featuring 29-year-old Finnish actress Nina Sallinen playing an 80-year-old stage diva of the same name. The octogenarian invites a select group of friends--the audience--into her home to witness her artistic farewell, a production of King Lear in which she plays all the parts with the help of props and puppets. Early in the performance it becomes clear that the aging actress has much in common with the sad old king, that she suffers from similar neglect at the hands of her daughters. Poignant and extremely witty, the story--by Sallinen and director Kristan Schmidt--demonstrates mastery of Shakespeare's work and a deep understanding of the charm and tragic wisdom of an unwanted elderly woman. Sadly, this revival is proof that even a virtuosa like Sallinen can fall into the doldrums of performance repetition: the diction gets a little mushy, the physical pranks expand until they're a little too big, and the ad-libs are more frequent and further out of character. This is a tragedy in its own right because, in the original run, Sallinen's characterization of the frail, stooped, vain yet vulnerable grande dame was simply perfect. However, even if Sallinen can never restore her performance to its original rhythm, clarity, and precision, Poor, Poor Lear is worth seeing (especially since this gifted actress will soon be moving from the Chicago area). Breadline Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice, Chicago, 773-248-9278. Through July 23: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $12-$15. --Kim Wilson

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Diana Jeter.

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