King Lear

  • Theater
  • Shakespeare
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1/4
Photograph: Liz Lauren
Ross Lehman and Larry Yando in King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
2/4
Photograph: Liz Lauren
Larry Yando, Kevin Gudahl and Nehassaiu deGannes in King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
3/4
Photograph: Liz Lauren
Steve Haggard and Larry Yando in King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
4/4
Photograph: Liz Lauren
Larry Yando and Nehassaiu deGannes in King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Shakespeare Theater. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Barbara Gaines. With Larry Yando. Running time: 2hrs 45mins; one intermission.

Theater review by Kris Vire

At the opening of Chicago’s first major production of King Lear in eight years, Larry Yando’s martini-swilling, smoking-jacketed monarch clicks grumpily through snippets of Frank Sinatra tracks, smashing multiple remote controls in frustration until he finds the one that satisfies him: “I’ve Got the World On a String,” an ironic prelude for a man who’s about to give up that tether.

Unlike that last production, Robert Falls’s bombastic but consistent 2006 staging at the Goodman, Barbara Gaines’s new Lear is unmoored from any cohesive concept. In fact, it bubbles over with so many mismatched ideas that you might think Gaines too was clicking a remote when she jotted them down.

Lear’s three daughters, Goneril (Bianca LaVerne Jones), Regan (Jessiee Datino) and Cordelia (Nehassaiu deGannes), spend the opening scene done up like contestants from Sunday night’s broadcast of the Miss America pageant. Kevin Gudahl’s banished Kent comes back to serve his king disguised as an extra from Sons of Anarchy. The look and affect of Steve Haggard’s Edgar could be inspired by The West Wing’s Josh Lyman, while his Poor Tom persona is pure Sideshow Mel. And Jesse Luken makes Edgar’s bastard brother Edmund such a sneeringly villainous bro he could have been trained at the Cobra Kai dojo.

Yando, at least, makes a moving fallen monarch; his Lear shows enough tentative cognitive struggles early on that we can accept his mistreatment of loving daughter Cordelia as a desperate, rash grasp for control of his own faculties. If he’s arguably on the young side to take on this often career-crowning role, he fully embodies its “vengeance, plague, death, confusion,” emphasis on the latter word. His anguish in the play’s back half is contagious, though he leans a bit hard on a choice of physicality that goes from staggering to shuffling.

Others in the cast acquit themselves nicely, including Haggard’s essaying of Edgar’s odd journey and Michael Aaron Lindner as his father, the loyal Gloucester. But all three daughters—Jones and Datino as the power-hungry older sisters and deGannes as the spurned and later avenging good girl—are soap-operatically overwrought in their portrayals. And Ross Lehman’s too-casual Fool comes across as apathetic and out-of-place.

As for Ol’ Blue Eyes, he gets more lines than many of Shakespeare’s characters. Gaines seems to have had the brainstorm to use Sinatra as the manifestation of Lear’s encroaching dementia; every time Yando’s king checks out, Frank croons in, often with a lyric that’s all too on the nose. Just before intermission, after Lear has done his raging on the heath amid the storm, Sinatra chimes in with “Where do you go when it starts to rain?” Blackout.

Where did Gaines come up with this half-baked notion to use the mid-century singer as Lear’s subconscious? Perhaps she misheard Gloucester’s line as “'Tis the times' plague, when Mad Men lead the blind.”

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Rob K

I agree with Jane N. that critics should only review a piece of art if at first they spend the time and effort asking the creators about their intentions. Not only should Mr. Vire have interviewed Barbara Gaines about her intentions, but TOC should have financed the building of a time machine to take Mr. Vire to Elizabethan England so he could interview Shakespeare about his intentions, since really, the audience should be free of any responsibility to make their own judgments about art. 


(I was only allowed to post a comment if I provided a star rating. I have not seen the production but only entered a star rating in order to post a comment.)

Jane N

I find it interesting that Kris Vire believes  that because he doesn't understand something it becomes a "half baked notion". Good theater, good art asks us to participate. In this case it would mean perhaps trying to understand why such a decision was made by the director. It might be easier to close a review this way but it certainly doesn't show any higher lever thinking on the part of the reviewer.  The article I WANT to read is one in which Vire ASKS Ms. Gaines her reasons for this choice. I'm sure it was made with thoughtful consideration...now THAT'S a good idea.


By the way, CST's production of Lear was incredible. And Sinatra's music transcends time.