Credit: DJ Corey Photography

We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

When five-time Helen Hayes Award honoree Rick Foucheux collected his latest trophy last month, for his performance in Ford’s Theatre’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the 62-year-old actor was the only recipient at this year’s ceremony to speak long enough from the podium for the orchestra to try to play him off. They should’ve shown a little more deference: Foucheux announced his impending “semi-retirement” a year ago. Playing King Lear for Avant Bard—a non-equity company staffed by artists he’s always liked, but that could never afford him—is a generous way of wrapping up a 35-year career that’s seen him earn raves on the biggest stages in town. Most actors don’t aspire to take their final bow at a middle school (which is what the Gunston Arts Center is). But what has Foucheux got to prove?

Director Tom Prewitt strives mightily to make a visibly penny-pinching production worthy of the grand occasion. Johnathan Dahm Robertson’s dun-colored set looks like a playground half-buried in a sandstorm; the kingdom that Lear ponders dividing up among his three daughters—he represents each parcel with a handful of sand dyed a different hue—has already gone to seed. The up-close black-box staging makes the show feel more like a family drama than an epic tragedy. I kept thinking of The Royal Tenenbaums and thinking that Cordelia—the would-be heiress sister who is sold off cheap for refusing to flatter her father as her sisters do—was like poor, lost Richie Tenenbaum, prepared to forgive her father anything.

Prewitt’s most inspired idea is to cast Cam Magee—Foucheux castmate from Woolly Mammoth’s 1983 production of R.U.R.—as the Earl of Gloucester, and to hint at romantic history between them. Foucheux himself played this role in a George Washington University Lear only two months ago. Christopher Henley, the company’s former artistic director, is the mournful Fool, while Avant Bard regular Sara Barker is virtually unrecognizable as Edgar, and Dylan Morrison Myers makes his scheming, two-timing Edmund more of a lout than a threat. In the late going, Christian R. Gibbs’ Albany brings enough of a charge to his scenes that you wish he had a more substantial role. Maybe we’ll be watching his Lear in 35 years.

2700 South Lang St., Arlington. $10-$35. (703) 418-4808.