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'King Lear' review: John Lithgow superb in latest Shakespeare in the Park production
There may be a surplus of "King Lear" revivals this year but that's no reason to miss out on or take for granted the straightforward but superb Shakespeare in the Park production of the play with John Lithgow and Annette Bening.
King Lear hasn't been done by the Public Theater in the park for more than 40 years (not since James Earl Jones played the title role). To be frank, it's easier to do one of Shakespeare's lighter romantic comedies in the park than any of the great tragedies.
Daniel Sullivan, who has directed a Shakespeare play at the Delacorte virtually every year since 2007, is a playwrights director, emphasizing the text and psychological motivation over conceptual gimmicks and visual displays. His Lear looks pretty simple, with just a wooden platform and a wall that suggests surrounding woodland. The costumes convey the plays original setting of a pre-Christian, feudal England.
While that may sound unexciting, especially for those whove seen plenty of other productions of the play, it proves to be exceptionally acted, engrossing and well-integrated among the ensemble.
There is an original touch in the disarming, thunder-like sound design, created by hammering metal sheets at the sides of the stage.
Lithgow as King Lear isnt just good casting. Its slam-down, pitch-perfect, absolutely ideal casting. Those who grew up watching Lithgow on the TV sitcom Third Rock from the Sun (including myself) will no doubt remember his childlike, larger-than-life reactions and extraordinary physicality as an alien transformed into a middle-aged human.
Those qualities, which are of course further intensified onstage, are perfectly suited to portraying the petulant, self-centered, increasingly unstable father and ruler. Plus, being a tall guy, he more than fits the oversized part.
Bening, who has not appeared onstage in New York in a quarter century, more than captures the regal haughtiness behind Lears daughter Goneril, while stage regular Jessica Hecht brings her characteristic excellence to Lears equally wicked daughter Regan. Clarke Peters (The Wire), looking exactly like Morgan Freeman, stands out as Gloucester, while Eric Sheffer Stevens brings an unusually comic edge to Gloucesters villainous son Edmund.
If you go: King Lear plays at the Delacorte Theatre as part of Shakespeare in the Park through Aug. 17. For details on obtaining free tickets visit publictheater.org.