For Email Marketing you can trust

King Lear†

 

 

                              By Eugene Paul

 

If you can Ďt get enough of Glenda Jackson, this is for you.

Perhaps the most generous and  rewarding moment in all of the current production of King Lear occurred at  the giddily enthusiastic curtain call when  a gracious Glenda Jackson gave an additional solo bow from her company to lovely Therese Barbato,  the understudy who performed as  both Cordelia, Learís youngest daughter, and Fool, Learís faithful jester who followed him in his madness.  Jackson, extraordinary in her sheer capacities to project this ugly, stupid, petulant Lear, is awesome in her clarity and vigor. But such a Lear for more than three hours is not a consummation devoutly to be wished. Itís enough to bring back the Nahum Tate version which sated audiences for 150 years with its happy ending. Surely the lugubrious sight of a hanged Cordelia dropping from Miriam Beutherís blasted gold setting cannot be construed as other than smartass.

Alas, smartass does not meld well with the integrity that is Glenda Jackson.  In fact, the heavy majority of this production does not meld well, but then, itís Shakespeareís most overwrought, most overthunk, most over fiddled play, praised to the skies, uneasily, for its plethora of ravishing passages, the main reason for the frequency of Lear productions. Certainly, itís not for the lucidity and cogency of its plot. Or the handling of it by the Great Bard. Or the handling of the whole shebang by director Sam Gold. In fact, thereís an inescapable aura of ďNovelty ProductionĒ about this entire affair, which makes sense were the capricious, audacious novelty of Glenda Jackson as King Lear the sole feature of an assured, classic production surrounding her, but director Gold has chosen to increase the novelty factor.  Itís a director thing.


Photo by Brigitte Lacombe 

Not that thereís a lot of novelty in presenting the play in modern dress, and doyenne costume designer Ann Roth does her wisest.  Not that set designer Miriam Beuther provides a gold setting, walls, benches, proscenium, hard curtain. ( I betcha there has never been  such aural splendor in any other Lear production). Itís the other directorial choices that nip at you:  such tall daughters, Goneril (Elizabeth Marvel) and Regan (Aisling OíSullivan) looming over their little old dad, King Lear.  At least, Cordelia (Therese Barbato) is closer to his elfin height.

The whole court is awaiting the arrival of the king.  In a golden corner a string ensemble plays Philip Glass. Weíre kind of awaiting the king, too, after all, itís Glenda Jackson.  In comes a little old man.  But whereís -- my gawd, it IS Glenda Jackson.  The little old man is retiring from his kingship.  Heís going to give his daughters his kingdom.  Heís divided it in three pieces: the best portion is probably going to his favorite, his youngest daughter, Cordelia, but he insists that his daughters declare how much they love him, cherish him, admire him before he makes the great division, Lear speaking his speeches trippingly.  The others just trip. In a variety of accents.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

When Cordelia does not fawn over him the way her two older sisters knock themselves out doing, screaming in  embarrassing rage, Lear cuts Cordelia off from him entirely, divides her portion between his smirking other daughters and disposes of Cordelia by instantly marrying her off sans dowry to whoever will have her.  Which happens to be the King of France (Ian Lassiter).  Not too shabby.

We are more or less following the Shakespearean text, absurdities already manifest, general prunings already under weigh to reduce five acts into two.  Director Gold presents the Duke of Cornwall, Reganís husband (kilted Russell Harvard) as a deaf mute,  his aide (Michael Arden)  using sign language to him and to Regan to convey what is going on.. No problem handling Shakespearean lines. Clever novelty there. Far from clever novelty having Jayne Houdyshell perform as the Earl of Gloucester.  Aside from whatís the point, she simply cannot comport her generous  feminine self in his generous masculine complexities, of which he has many, among them, disowning his legitimate son, Edgar (hard striving Sean Carvajal) , hoodwinked by his villainously ruthless bastard son, Edumund (excellent Pedro Pascal). Shakespeare compounding miseries.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe


All prelude to Learís famous mad scene on a storm blasted heath, having been scorned and reduced to nothingness by his two ravenously avaricious daughters, Regan and Goneril. Only there is no heath.  There is a hard, gold,curtain, in a hard, gold box of a world. Reducing glorious lines to  awkwardness. Only so much you can do without supportive surrounds. Adding insult to injury, Shakespeare has Edgar disguised  as a madman to hide himself from his murderous brother in this same scene with mad Lear and Learís faithful Fool, a truly  involved catechism in  what is sane and what is not which requires enormous skill of everyone involved, including the director. Ah, wellÖ.

 


Photo by Brigitte Lacombe


Edmund seducing both Regan and Goneril. Fornication, Gonerilís lovely legs expressive in their bare, high flung enthusiasms. Eye gouging, Cornwallís clumsy, gloppy, messy defacement of Gloucester. War with France come to rescue Lear. Itís all there in the rest of the play. Plus Cordeliaís novelty demise. And the demise of Shakespeareís deathless lines thereupon. Well, whatís a director to do? Get through all of it fast. I am so sorry. Never, never, never, never, never.

                                                            *

King Lear. At the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street.  Tickets: $35-$159. 212-239-6200. 3hrs,30 min. Thru July 7.

                                                            *