Theater review: ‘King Lear’ — 3 stars

Whereas multiple productions of “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” were seen last year, 2014 is shaping up to the year of “King Lear,” that good old family tragedy of apocalyptic proportions.  

Back in January, an English production starring Frank Langella played BAM. During the summer, it will be done at Shakespeare in the Park with John Lithgow. In the fall, London’s Globe Theatre will offer the play at NYU with Joseph Marcell.

At present, it is being done by Theatre for a New Audience at its gorgeous new space in Brooklyn. The title role is being played by Michael Pennington, an English actor and director who may be best known for a bit part in “Return of the Jedi.”

Arin Arbus’ sleek and engaging production runs exactly three hours, features 22 actors and effectively utilizes heavy lighting, sound effects, multiple entranceways, costumes evoking 19th century Eastern Europe and a reddish-black wall that tilts forward to suggest the collapse of order. The language is spoken with the utmost clarity.

At the start, Pennington comes off as the ideal Lear, absolutely authoritative in presence. Lear’s initial fury at his daughters is also exquisitely conveyed. However, the pivotal scene where he rages against the elements is marred by odd choices.

From that point on, his performance grows increasingly less compelling.
The magnetic Chandler Williams makes for a virile and aggressive Edmund, the villainous illegitimate son. Christopher McCann plays the aged Gloucester in an unnecessarily bookish and buffoonish vein, rather like Polonius in “Hamlet.” His performance grows more credible after Gloucester undergoes serious physical injury.

Now it’s on to the next “Lear”!


“King Lear” plays at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center through May 4. 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn. tfana.org.