August 12, 2014
Old age is rough, particularly when your Fool (the delightful Steven Boyer) chides you for getting old before getting wise. Now King Lear was many things, but a master of good judgment, he was not.
When an old king decides to divide up his kingdom among his three daughters, he determines the size of their territory based on their verbal expression of their love for him. Something akin to a child asking a parent, “how much do you really love me?” Goneril and Regan can barely find breath enough to describe their love, while the favored, youngest daughter can’t find the words. In a fit of rage, Lear splits the land in half eliminating Cordelia’s share and dowry. Despite her loss, the Duke of France (Slate Holmgren) chooses her for his bride.
After relinquishing his powers and his land in the hands of his two hard-boiled daughters, King Lear insists on retaining a retinue of 100 soldiers.
Once Lear’s kingdom is sliced up, loyalties shred pitting Earls against earls, brother against brother and friend against friend.
John Lithgow bears the title of King Lear with the exasperation, memory loss and misplaced loyalties of an old person, plagued by dementia and frustrated by declining physical prowess.
Intent on corralling his influence even further, the exasperated older daughters evict the king’s retinue of soldiers, causing him to take to the woods for protection from the uncivilized family members.
Jessica Hecht plays an oily Goneril, inflamed by passion for the duplicitous Edmund (Eric Sheffer Stevens) while Annette Bening depicts the clear-eyed, strong-armed Regan. Both sisters plot together to undo their father of all kingly assets, and then attempt to devour one another when they both fall for the double-talking Edmond.
After he’s wrongly accused of plotting his father’s death, a strong Edgar(Chukwudi Iwuji) – also beautifully lean and buffed—drops into the wilderness where Lear roams and ends up guiding his despairing father, Earl of Gloucester (the fine Clarke Peters).
But, the man of the evening is the ever-excellent Jay O. Sanders as Earl of Kent (disguised as Caius). A consistent standout in any production, his interpretation of the loyal, outspoken Earl disguised as a beggar to assist his king -- consistently holds center stage. In fact, should anyone decide to mount another King Lear, they have their man in Mr. Sanders.
Despite the sometimes-lackadaisical direction by the adept Daniel Sullivan, the production moves well in the first half and then slows to a simmer in the second half.
William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is the final entry in this summer’s much loved Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis