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King Lear: In brief
The wave of high-profile Shakespeare continues with Frank Langella's take on the grief-madded monarch. Angus Jackson directs his production after its triumphant run at Chichester Festival Theatre. Rather than bearing a directorial concept, this Lear mainly showcases a mighty, magisterial turn by Langella.
King Lear: Theater review by David Cote
Autumn’s Shakespeare glut caused a resurgence in the chronic cross-pond stage rivalry. Who’s better at the Bard, pundits demanded, Yanks or Brits? Certainly our local talent (Ethan Hawke et al.) fared dismally when matched against Mark Rylance or the all-female Julius Caesar from London’s Donmar Warehouse. Now comes Frank Langella—100 percent Made-in-the-USA Star—as King Lear. Yes, the supporting cast is English, and the production played the U.K.’s Chichester Festival Theatre last year…and Langella does adopt a plummy accent…but can we just call it a draw?
Other than that transatlantic celebrity casting, there’s nothing gimmicky about this Lear—such a relief. No “original practices,” as the Shakespeare’s Globe troupe is currently offering on Broadway (which, mind you, is marvelous), but also no clumsy attempt to update the period or “problematize the text” via multimedia. Instead, Angus Jackson’s meat-and-potatoes approach is solidly medieval: Robert Innes Hopkins’s set may be abstract, but it’s made of wood timbers and massive boards. The costumes are likewise from a time when life was nasty, brutish and short. When characters invoke the gods, they dutifully eyeball the balcony.
And the deities have blessed this ensemble, which is mostly forceful and fresh. Max Bennett’s dashingly heartless Edmund tears through his lines at a bloody-minded clip, as his legitmate brother, Edgar (Sebastian Armesto), pulls off the nigh-impossible transformation into jabbering, mud-smeared Poor Tom. As the villainous sisters Goneril and Regan, Catherine McCormack and Lauren O’Neil give full rein to cold-blooded ambition. And Harry Melling (that’s Dudley Dursley to Harry Potter fans) crafts a refreshingly young and cogent Fool. Langella finds excellent variety and vocal dynamism in his grueling role: Lear rumbles, he sings, he bellows—and when the unhoused ruler really loses it, he screams hysterically. Musical, muscular, fearsome yet tragically human, he’s every inch a king.—Theater review by David Cote
THE BOTTOM LINE: We go crazy for Frank Langella’s take on the mad monarch.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote
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