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King Lear

  • Theater, Drama
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

King Lear. Delacorte Theater (see Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With John Lithgow. Running time: 3hrs. One intermission.

King Lear: In brief

Tickets are free (two per person) and may be picked up only on the day of performance after noon at the Delacorte Theater. A limited number of tickets are also distributed via online lottery; see website for details. The recent Lear deluge continues as the Public's revered Shakespeare in the Park series takes on the Bard's tragedy of foolish judgment and majestic degradation. Daniel Sullivan directs John Lithgow in the title role; among the other players are Annette Bening, Jessica Hecht, Jay O. Sanders and Steven Boyer.

For more information on Shakespeare in the Park, click here.

King Lear: Theater review by David Cote

The latest King Lear opens at a time when the world is confirming its apocalyptic vision: civilians shot out of the sky, children bombed in schools and disease spreading from foreign lands. “Humanity must perforce prey on itself,” the Duke of Albany muses, “like monsters of the deep.” Maybe such headline-horror resonance added to my sense that the Public Theater has delivered, pound for pound, the most coherent, heart-wrenching and gut-punching Lear I’ve ever seen. Led by a magisterial yet vulnerable John Lithgow, this exceptional production addresses and finesses so many trouble spots in a problematic classic, it’s like seeing it afresh.

For example, this Fool (Steven Boyer) can actually make you laugh—maybe even cry. Boyer (lately brilliant in Hand to God) has the lithe wispiness of a boy but also the acid tongue of an insult comic. Helping the much taller Lithgow through the iconic tempest, they look like a homeless father and son. Jay O. Sanders’s Kent is not just a loyal stiff; he’s burly, warm and humorous. For once, I believed he would follow his king into death after the final curtain. Cordelia is usually a bland do-gooder, but angelic Jessica Collins displays backbone and the zeal of an avenging angel. Lear’s cruel daughters, Goneril and Regan, are older—played by the thrilling Annette Bening and Jessica Hecht, respectively—which underscores their thirst for power and their distance from Cordelia. Eric Sheffer Stevens handles the bastard Edmund with a light touch, making his villainy all the more appalling. In case I haven’t made it clear, this is an inspired ensemble.

Above all, we have a Lear to care about, neither a vile tyrant nor a victimized dodderer. Everyone knows Lithgow’s rich, plummy tones and penchant for tall-guy slapstick, but he’s titanic, at the height of his powers. Lithgow uses his voice like a full orchestra, dredging up dreadful howls and moans from the bowels of the earth, while fully savoring Lear's rich, tragic verse. It all adds up the most emotionally naked and pitiable, the most human Lear in memory. Given all this excellence, I scarcely need note that Daniel Sullivan directed it. Unlike the mad king, I hope this sturdy fixture of Shakespeare in the Park never comes in from the wilderness.—Theater review by David Cote

THE BOTTOM LINE John Lithgow boldly scales the Everest of Shakespearean tragedy.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

For our complete list of free outdoor theater this summer, click here.

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