King Lear

La MaMa E.T.C. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Patrick Swanson. With Alvin Epstein.

KING OF PAIN Epstein reunites with Sarah Newhouse.

KING OF PAIN Epstein reunites with Sarah Newhouse. Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

Precious little sovereignty adheres to Alvin Epstein’s babyish King Lear in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of the Bard’s immeasurable tragedy. Performed in the round, Patrick Swanson’s thoughtful staging affords an unusually intimate view of a work that is often conceived in grander terms; thus circumscribed, this version has the effect of focusing on the personal and domestic aspects of Lear’s disintegration. Here is not a great man undone by pride or filial ingratitude, but a demanding and volatile codger: selfish, irascible and tyrannical toward those who fail to adequately dote on his dotage.

The spry and masterful Epstein, 81, is roughly the same age as Lear, and is fearless in portraying the old king’s weakness; he often allows his voice to go high and thin, like a spoiled child mewling for attention. This he easily commands from the audience, if not from his impatient daughters, leaving the rest of the cast to melt into generally competent but unmemorable support. (Exceptions include the virile virulence of Benjamin Evett’s Edmund and the tough love of Allyn Burrows’s faultless Kent.) But this is Lear’s story, in the end, and it is fitting that the most striking moment in this stripped-down drama—delineated by David R. Gammons’s lean, leathery production design and Bill Barclay’s metallic soundscape—should be of the storm-ravaged, nearly naked Epstein in Act IV. A soft, wrinkled dumpling of a man in a diaper, Epstein’s poor and bare Lear transcends performance; this, one feels, is the thing itself. — Adam Feldman