Monday, November 07, 2011



Sam Waterston is a brilliant King Lear at The Public Theater.

This is not a pompous stage King beguiled by evil daughters' flattery. For once the King is believably old, sick, and confused: profound in his humanity, but not his understanding. This is a human who is adrift in his old age. His story is much more accessibly real and touching than any Lear I have seen before.

The rest of the production is mixed, in some ways supporting this mythical yet modern version -- for example, with mostly modern dress and a mostly bare yet stylized stage design -- and in some ways confusing -- with weapons, explosions, and some costuming that clashed with each other anachronistically. It was not so much timeless as asynchronous.

The supporting actors were also mixed, with strong performances from Bill Irwin as The Fool, John Douglas Thompson as Earl of Kent and Seth Gilliam as Edmund. I would have liked Cordelia to be more instantly sympathetic, and Goneril and Regan to be less sympathetic throughout the play, and more physical in their lust for Edmund. (I do believe Shakespeare should be as fierce in its physicality as it is in its language.) It would have been interesting to see Thompson and Michael McKean (Earl of Gloucester) exchange roles. Most all the supporting actors were brilliant during at least some of their moments on stage; those mentioned first were powerful from start to finish.

I am still -- even after Irwin's performance -- not quite sure why The Fool, even when telling harsh truths, is acceptable to the King, while Lear is so outraged by Cordelia when she fails to fulfill the protocol of love at the beginning; however, Waterston's performance suggests that the physical and emotional traumas Lear endures help him to dispel the confusion he was suffering, and regain the understanding he once possessed.

Sam Waterston's performance as King Lear, which runs through November 20, should not be missed.

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