King Lear

KING FOR A DAY Kline, left, feels his powers fading.

KING FOR A DAY Kline, left, feels his powers fading. Photograph: Michael Daniel

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Half-mad, heartbroken and exposed to the wind and rain, King Lear howls into the maw of Mother Nature: “Here I stand your slave, / A poor, infirm, weak and despised old man.” It takes all your strength to not shout back: “Nonsense! You’re Kevin Kline and you look rich, healthy and sane, and we all love you!” Kline has set himself a Major Acting Challenge, playing the foolish monarch who loses his kingdom but finds his humanity. Alas, though the charismatic stage and film star has the white hairs and sonorous voice for the role, he is temperamentally unsuited to handle the king.

So, apparently, is director James Lapine, who lacks a coherent or novel approach to the tragedy—besides directorial flourishes that call attention to design elements that never fully gel. There’s a preshow involving three girl actors—flashback versions of Goneril (Angela Pierce), Regan (Laura Odeh) and Cordelia (Kristen Bush); there’s an industrial-metal set and a mishmash of modern dress; and there are several minutes of superfluous incidental music contributed by Stephen Sondheim and Michael Starobin. The result is a rather timid, synthetic and slow-pulsed production, instead of the savage, bloody locomotive King Lear ought to be.

Which only leaves supporting turns to savor, such as Logan Marshall-Green’s wolfish bastard Edmund and Odeh’s Regan, played like Lady Macbeth going bonkers from guilt. Larry Bryggman strikes the right notes of pride and grief as eyeless Gloucester, and Philip Goodwin creates a grimly Beckettian Fool. But at the center of this slick, risk-free Lear, Kline doesn’t command so much as temporarily abide. He’s a pleasure to hear (few American actors have such easy command of Shakespeare’s language), but his physical robustness and aura of equanimity finally usurp his rule. — David Cote

Public Theater . By William Shakespeare. Dir. James Lapine. With ensemble cast. 3hrs 15mins. One intermission.