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The Reborn Post5's King Lear Isn't "Edgy," But It Did Make Grown Men Cry

The new Post5 premieres with a stunning classic.

When Post5 Theatre changed management last fall, its new leadership trio launched a mission to deliver high-brow professional theater on the Sellwood stage. "We want to be that outlet for real gritty, edgy theater," said co-artistic director Rusty Tennant.

The inaugural show, King Lear as directed by Tennant, doesn't fulfill half that goal. But it's an honorable failure. This Lear is not edgy, nor fresh—it's an 80-year-old theater patriarch playing Shakespeare's monarch on a proscenium stage, backed by weathered company members—and both the audience and company are better for it.

"Majestic" is the first and lasting impression from this production of Lear. Tennant and his team have completely remodeled the old church where Post5 performs into a classic proscenium stage. All matte black, it boasts seven portals backstage, a lofted ceiling, balcony level and two staircases.

This is the playground for a company of talented actors, bringing their token charms to each role. Ithica Tell drips disdain from her curled upper lip as Goneril; Stan Brown is her indulgently flamboyant minion; Jessica Tidd fills out the lusty Regan in a black slip or red fur coat; and Todd Van Voris…you should know the name.

The axis is 80-year-old Tobias Andersen, a 50-year veteran of Northwest theater who limited his bio to "twenty-four of Shakespeare's plays" to fit in the program. His titular King is a tempest of rage at the start, raising his cane to beat an outspoken adviser. Then, he's a pathetic clown as the mad king, wearing a crown of twigs and what looks like Pippi Longstocking's pajamas. In the tragic end, Andersen is humanity's ribcage cracked open, as he stands center stage, carrying his daughter's corpse with frail arms and a locked jaw. Though Andersen swallows some less pivotal dialogue with too much speed and not enough enunciation, his spotlit monologues are near-perfect. When he whispers, "So we'll live, and pray…and laugh at gilded butterflies," Shakespeare is done justice. It feels traditional enough to deserve respect and relevant enough to be inked on Megan Fox.

Despite Tennant's goal of making edgy Sellwood theater, the show's most ground-breaking bits include casual gay flirtation that goes nowhere, one out-of-place cellphone cameo, Tell's Forever 21-style dresses, and a torture scene in which Cornwall (Sam Holloway) blinds Gloucester (Jim Butterfield) and smashes a grape eyeball underfoot.

These are minor tweaks as compared to Post5 just six months ago, which set Much Ado About Nothing at a 1950s vineyard. Before that, Chip Sherman in drag starred as Viola in Twelfth Night.

The new Post5 is at its best when it aims for professional, which is an easier target when you're not distracted by trailblazing. Give Van Voris and Tell a blank stage and they'll fill it, without tricks. The one well-choreographed knife fight had plenty of action, making the audience gasp when Heath Hyun and Jim Valdala, with blades drawn, almost sprawled across the front row. And when Lear escapes "the rack of this tough world" and slumps under his daughter's dead weight, my eyes weren't the only wet ones.

On the way out, two broad-chested, bearded men were still processing the final scene: "I didn't think I'd cry like that."

see it: King Lear is at Post5 Theatre, 1666 SE Lambert St., 971-258-8584. 7:30 pm Friday-Sunday, through March 19. $20.