The Re-Theatre Instrument is a new company—this is their second show—with the extremely earnest goal of contemporizing classic works. Under the artistic direction of Jason Zimbler, they tackled Faust last year, and have moved on to a season of Shakespeare, which promises to include a retelling of Much Ado about Nothing in which Beatrice and Benedick are reimagined as "Mac people" and "PC people."
Re-Theatre's production of King Lear: The Fall and Rise of Baseball envisions the king as a baseball commissioner—Reggie Lear (Ted Roisum), the "King of Baseball," we are reminded frequently, in case anyone missed the reference. Lear runs an idealized version of a baseball league, in which market size doesn't dictate how much television airtime a team gets, and the game matters more than the bottom line. When it comes time for him to retire, he bequeaths his office to three women on the condition that they agree to run the game the same way he did. Two of the women quickly agree to his terms, though they have no intention of adhering to them (they are power-mad bitches, we are reminded frequently), while his more principled daughter Cordelia (Sara Fay Goldman) refuses. By the time Lear realizes what a mistake he's made, it's too late: The "bitches" have ruined baseball.
There's no point in even talking about the acting here, because the finest talent in town couldn't salvage this production. The script is based on improvised workshops, and frankly, it sounds like it. The language is clunky, from the heavy-handed verses that introduce the show to the script's more poetic flourishes ("the boys of summer are lost in the snow," etc.). There's no character development, no nuance, and large segments of the show simply don't make sense. A moment in which one character tears out another's eyes is not only utterly absurd in any kind of contemporary setting, but—thanks to ponderous lighting and an incredibly ill-advised slow-motion effect—it's one of the most unintentionally hilarious moments I've seen on a Portland stage, ever.
Creating new works based on contemporary issues is a fine idea. Throwing Shakespeare into the mix simply is not. The original text here does nothing more than impose an unwieldy, unworkable narrative template, while casting a pall of self-importance over the entire production.