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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: October ::
Re: Lear on PBS
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1005  Monday, 19 October 1998.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton 
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Oct 1998 13:53:08 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0999  Re: Lear on PBS

[2]     From:   Steve Urkowitz <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Oct 1998 20:44:19 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0993  Re: Lear on PBS

[3]     From:   Peggy O'Brien <
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        Date:   Saturday, 17 Oct 1998 04:41:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0993  Re: Lear on PBS

[4]     From:   Dominic Hartley <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Oct 1998 15:52:25 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.0999  Re: Lear on PBS


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton 
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Oct 1998 13:53:08 EDT
Subject: 9.0999  Re: Lear on PBS
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0999  Re: Lear on PBS

Mr. Connolly wrote, in part, re: the Ian Holm production of Lear:

>  >On the whole, a decent production but wildly over-hyped by PBS.>>

To which Mr. Webster responded, also in part:

>  How sad when we cannot see what is before us for what it is, as it is.
>  How sad that we cast a veil of archness over all.
>  This archness destroys art by laying on impasto on impasto of previous
>  sensation.We get the Lear that we deserve for our slice of time.
>  I loved the robust, no affectations, balls-to-the-wall speaking of the
>  verse.
>  It made the language so supple and attainable.
>  It was grand and everyday at the same time.
>  Like ol' WS is supposed to be.
<snip>
>  May I quote Kent and say, see better, Connolly? And stop seeing/hearing
>  yourself.

May I quote Lear, Mr. Webster, and suggest that you mend your speech a
little?

I saw the Ellis Rabb minimalist production of Hamlet many years ago, on
Broadway.  Except for Hamlet Pere, who as I recall wore armor, and
Claudius, who in addition to business attire wore a crown and an
ermine-edged cape, all of the male actors were in business suits, and
the women in modern dress.  There were two huge blocks of black wood
onstage that served for everything from Elsinore's parapets to Ophelia's
grave, and the lighting was white (only).  The starkness of that set and
the costuming was an equally compelling backdrop to the dialogue, but
much better done; I found the "Dr. Who" futuristic-ness of the PBS set
distracting, and the cinematography everything from puzzling to
downright awful (headshots of the back of the speaker's skull, stray
arms and elbows in the frame in close-ups, etc.). The acoustics and
enunciation were good, no denying that, but Cordelia was overdone and
largely unsympathetic, and Goneril's crocodile tears as her father
curses her were to me utterly implausible:  I cannot agree with Doug
Green that "at that point in the action"-particularly in this
production-"she is not a wholly unsympathetic character," especially
after the pubescently "nyah nyah" looks she has shot at Regan after the
love declaration in the parceling-out-Daddy scene.  The treachery which
prompts her accuser's tirade is directed at father and king, a violation
of the Decalogue as well as treason, one might argue, and she and
Regan-glib politicians who prosper by speaking their father's
language-are foils to Kent and Cordelia-honest hearts and true whose
bull-in-a-chinashop bluntness will never do in a diplomatic
environment.  We are not supposed to like her.  She succeeded in
ensuring that much, as did the jarringly hard blonde Regan, from the
moment she appeared on the stage.

I liked the aged Fool as a symbol of the folly and foibles of the other
two old men, and found Edmund disturbing: I don't know if I'm quite
prepared to see him as unrelievedly sinister until the final scene, but
that has to do with a larger overview of the evolution of evil in this
period (not only in Shakespeare) that it would be tedious to go into
here.

Chacun a son gout: I really don't think we need to take potshots at one
another for expressing utterly subjective opinions that are so
characterized.  I would take Olivier's Lear again any day (and I too
found myself dozing, or at least not entirely alert, through parts of
this performance, though I had marked my calendar a month in advance to
ensure that I would remember to watch it).

Best regards to all,
Carol Barton
Averett College - Northern Virginia Campus

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Oct 1998 20:44:19 EDT
Subject: 9.0993  Re: Lear on PBS
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0993  Re: Lear on PBS

The unrelieved humorlessness of the characterizations turned this
production of the play so sour.  The play's text demands lightness, high
spirits and crackling wit even in its darkest moments.  "Thus Kent, O
Princes, bids you all adieu, He'll shape his old course in a country
new."  Hey, he's zinging those puns with energy.  Edgar, Cordelia,  the
Fool, and Lear himself are very funny people according to the words they
use.  They deal with issues of outrage as well as of love and obligation
with a flexible lightness of soul that makes the hundred knights want to
follow Lear.  (See Michael Long's chapter on the play in his 1975 The
Unnatural Scene if you can lay hands on a copy.  I have a few xeroxes I
can share until it gets reprinted.)

But lots of folks seem to like unrelieved sour.  I'd rather take my
flavors mixed.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peggy O'Brien <
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Date:           Saturday, 17 Oct 1998 04:41:03 -0500
Subject: 9.0993  Re: Lear on PBS
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0993  Re: Lear on PBS

I too wonder where Thomas Connolly lives-he who spoke of the Ian Holm
Lear as "wildly over-hyped by PBS."  I'm interested to know if his local
public television station made much of it-that would be encouraging.
PBS has an incredibly small promotion budget and therefore hardly even
can  hype much less over-hype, except in the rare cases where a company
like General Motors spends millions of dollars in order to make sure
that you know that The Civil War is coming, and that it will be on for
the next six nights in a row.

In general, we in public broadcasting are pleased to be able to provide
the American public, for free, with a new and pretty solid (if not to
everyone's total delight, but I've been in lobbies in Stratford and
London enough times to know that nothing is!) production of an important
play.  Among other reasons, lots of people can't afford live theatre,
live opera, live symphonies-and public broadcasting helps to makes those
connections for everybody, even though un-live is never quite like the
real thing.

Within the next couple of years, Masterpiece Theatre will begin to
feature a few dramatizations of works by-of all things-American writers
(they are in production now), and we're hoping for a bit of a hype then
so that you will all know to watch and critique!

Peggy O'Brien
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dominic Hartley <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Oct 1998 15:52:25 +0100
Subject: 9.0999  Re: Lear on PBS
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.0999  Re: Lear on PBS

I have to say that I entirely agree with Penny Rixon's comments. This is
another opportunity lost, a squandering of the chance to record a
defining performance.

Although at least one other production from the same space has recently
transferred successfully to television (the Deborah Warner/Fiona Shaw
Richard II), I feel there is rich research material for someone in the
dismal realisation on film or television of notable performances from
major theatrical companies. The odd success such as that Richard II or
the Brook/Scofield Lear shouldn't disguise the fact.

Dominic Hartley
 

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