Thursday, May 05, 2011

King Lear

Gwen and I saw King Lear with Derek Jacobi last night at BAM, and it was thrilling. His Lear was vivid, human, and prey to so many emotions. He strutted when he prompted his daughters to say how much they loved him; he was incredulous when Cordelia wouldn't follow suit; he was childishly happy to be free of kingship and then petulant when Goneril chided him about his retinue; he was rash when he left Regan's home for the moor; he lost his mind by degrees; he gradually woke to the peril he was in; he walked on carrying Cordelia and whispered, "I killed the knave who was a-hanging thee." He made all of that wonderful poetry serve the character. Some of the most famous lines came out like throwaways, because this Lear was not a philosopher; he was a vain king who had lost everything.

Goneril and Regan were stylish, and surprisingly modern, in slim black dresses (while the men were running around with swords), and distinct characters. Goneril in particular was quite sympathetic toward the beginning. Her complaints about Lear's retinue came out as the reasonable concerns of a woman whose houseguests were becoming far too much trouble. Regan was less aggressive at first, but picked up strength as she learned from her sister. Although Kent and others saw the two women as evil from the start, and Edmund is shown eavesdropping on their conversation and learning to be evil at the end of the first act, this production showed them growing more evil under Edmund's influence as time went on. They become violent monsters, and no one was sorry when their deaths were announced.

Gloucester, Edmund, Edgar and Kent were all well-cast. Kent's disguise was convincing, and Edgar was almost unrecognizable as Poor Tom. Edmund was handsome, athletic, but unsure enough to be persuasively baffled by the women's attention. 

I wish Jerry Zimler could have seen this production. I hope he would have liked it; the production tried hard to make up for the play's dramatic flaws. I know it would have held his attention and that he would have had a lot to say about it.