An aging autocratic widower, who reared three daughters alone after his beloved wife’s premature death in an accident, becomes a modern-day King Lear in Theatre in the Park’s world-premiere presentation of The Rocker, a powerful domestic drama written by Triangle playwright Adrienne Earle Pender and skillfully staged by her husband, director D. Anthony Pender. Confronted by the daunting diagnosis of a terminal illness and chilling prognosis that he only has a few months to live, crusty family patriarch Owen Miller (Triangle theater legend John T. Hall) decides to divide his $3 million estate based on the answers his three daughters give him to a nagging question: What kind of father was I? In exchange for this largess, he expects his daughters to care for him, in their homes, throughout his final illness.

The two oldest daughters Ginny Miller Blake (Donna Rossi Youngblood) and Rachel Miller Morton (Jennifer Lukas Joyner) sugar-coat their answers, but independent and outspoken Delia Miller (Mariette Booth) his youngest, unmarried, and heretofore favorite daughter minces no words. So, Owen Miller abruptly disinherits her and storms off to live with his middle daughter, Rachel.

The Rocker takes its title from an old rocker in the attic, a family heirloom, which is all that Delia truly wants from her father’s fortune. Owen Miller’s intemperate response to Delia’s answer to his question sets in motion a series of events that loosely mirror, but do not copy blow for blow, the plot of King Lear.

Jack Hall gives a powerful performance as Owen Miller, adding another golden chapter to his legend. Donna Youngblood and Jennifer Joyner play money-hungry upper-middle-class matrons and provide perfect foils for their overbearing father; and Mariette Booth gives a gritty performance as the spurned daughter who, nevertheless, has dear old dad’s best interests in mind.

Jason Weeks is very good as Ginny’s temperamental husband, Al Blake; Jeff Nugent provides comic relief as Rachel’s husband, Patrick Morton, who never met a restaurant buffet that he couldn’t demolish; and novice actress Olivia Sosnowski, who is profoundly deaf, makes a highly favorable impression with her feisty portrayal of Ginny and Al Blake’s hearing-impaired daughter Kate. (Sosnowski even learned sign language for the role!)

Scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson has crafted another superlative set to represent the Blakes’ posh living room; his wife, costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson, has created a nice array of costumes to express the characters’ vastly differing tastes; and sound designer Jim Thomas and sign-language instructor Libby Snyder deserve kudos for their substantial contributions toward making The Rocker a must-see drama.

Dramatist Adrienne Earle Pender and director Tony Pender have worked hard to smooth out the rough edges in this promising script. TIP’s provocative production will surely help the playwright make further refinements in the characters and dialogue. As it is, The Rocker not only rings true, but it hits the Baby Boomers in the audience squarely on a most sensitive nerve what to do to ensure their elderly parents live out their final days in comfort with dignity and love.

Theater in the Park presents The Rocker Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 19-21 and Feb. 26-28, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb 22 and 29, at 3 p.m. on TIP’s Main Stage, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. Note: There will be an audio-described performance Feb. 19. $18 ($12 students, seniors, and military personnel). 919/831-6058. [inactive 3/04] .