The Public Theater has revisited William Shakespeare’s currently popular drama King Lear this summer with all the glorious tragedy the sad ruler deserves. And they have done the Bard proud.
The staging at the Delacorte by director Daniel Sullivan lends itself beautiful and smoothly to the space and the piece, transporting us back to the days of not only the great King himself, but the old common English theater as well. Accessible and sarcastically comical, the lens through which Sullivan allows us to glimpse Lear hoists the tragedy on us in a mercurial swing of moods not unlike those of the mad and foolish that are portrayed. An awe inspiring vision, softening us just enough to allow the depth of the loss and pain to dig into our skin like loose soil; where it can grow and flourish, mirrored in our modern day.
As aid to the work, there are solid and insightful portrayals throughout the cast. John Lithgow is a strong and versatile Lear, leading the way in his descent into madness. He humanizes the epic King, leaving no wonder to the cause and purpose of his spiraling transformation. Eric Sheffer Stevens' delivery of Edmund is second to none. His casual wit and charisma endears him to the audience even as his actions horrify. Stevens shines in this role, owning the stage. He gives us an Edmund that cannot be turned away from the moment he is left alone with his audience. Other notable contributions come in the dynamic delivery of Steven Boyer as the fool, a pleasing balance of laughter and insight. Clarke Peters as the Earl of Gloucester gives a well-grounded performance, a wonderful support in his paralleling tragedy with Lear. Edgar, played by Chukwudi Iwuji, is free and vulnerable with nothing standing between him and his viewers.
Somewhat disappointing were the three sisters. Annette Bening (Goneril) seemed uncomfortable with the language. Jessica Hecht (Regan), though she elicited some laughs, was often ludicrous with her more serious moments. Neither woman looked comfortable with their space on the stage. Jessica Collins as Cordelia allowed herself to be immediately emotional available for the audience, but left little room for growth.
The scenic design of John Lee Beatty and costumes by Susan Hilferty are rustically elegant. The use of drummed metal sheets, as well as the additional music completes the simple yet perfectly rendered environment.
King Lear, given life at The Public Theater, is an ideal night of theater for both those well versed in or new to Shakespeare, giving all something to take away. Running through August 17th, this limited engagement should not be missed.
Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Joan Marcus