Review: King Lear
The Royal Shakespeare Company follows the mad monarch into a mild storm.
Thu Jul 28 2011
Photograph: Stephanie Berger
The Royal Shakespeare Company's King Lear
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Shakespeare's primordial tragedy about fathers and children gets me every time. Whether it's the title monarch's grim flash of clarity with regard to banished Cordelia, "I did her wrong," or his pathetic prayer of "let me not be mad," I always get misty-eyed. By the time we arrive at Act IV's famous reconciliation scene, in which Lear begs forgiveness and Cordelia assures him there's nothing to forgive, the waterworks are flowing freely. And even though we've had too many Lears in New York (the Royal Shakespeare Company's current staging is the fifth major revival in as many years), I still bring Kleenex to any production. So consider my dry peepers throughout David Farr's tepid, competent and lamely industrial staging a mute prcis of this review.
At this point in the RSC's five-show occupation (residency seems too kind) of the Park Avenue Armory, it's safe to assert that the mammoth cultural event was oversold. Clear the Anglophilia from your eyes: Lincoln Center Festival has imported 15-plus hours of decent English classical acting, lightly sprinkled with conceptual direction. On a technical level, the iambs are neatly stacked and everyone's breath is supported, but the actual caliber of acting is mediocre, far below the New York average. Greg Hicks gives a more youthful (arrested adolescent) Lear than you expect, but his voice is more sonorous than shattering, and he takes too many vapid, indulgent pauses. Farr's one daring idea—a female Fool (Sophie Russell, quite funny) to evoke Cordelia—is outnumbered by the meaningless abandoned-warehouse setting and the supposedly ominous floodlights crackling above like electric gods. It leaves you unmoved—in head and heart. Lear can command us to "howl" in sorrow as he carries in his hanged daughter, but this leaden production has turned us all into men of stone.
Park Avenue Armory. By William Shakespeare. Dir. David Farr. With Greg Hicks. 3hrs 30mins. One intermission.