The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0375 Wednesday, 15 July 2009
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Subject: King Lear at the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, DC
It is not often that two distinguished members of the SHAKSPER listserv
appear together in a significant Shakespeare production, but that is
exactly what is happening through July 26 at the Shakespeare Theatre's
Sidney Harman Hall. To whom do I refer? Stacy Keach and Edward Gero.
Although I saw this _King Lear_ directed by Robert Falls a few weeks
ago, I have not had the opportunity to report on it until now.
This is the third Shakespeare play I have seen Stacy Keach perform in.
Those who think of him for his television roles and for his stoner
police sergeant in Cheech and Chong movies may not know that Keach's
roots are in classical theater. Between 1962 and 1973, he performed 16
roles in Shakespeare productions. During his entire career, he has
played Antipholus of Syracuse; Westmoreland; Mercutio; Berowne; Henry V;
Brutus; Feste; Autolycus; Coriolanus; Falstaff; Marcellus and The Player
King, Hamlet 3 times; Richard III; Kent, Edmund, and Lear; Banquo and
Macbeth at venues that include Oregon Shakespeare Festival, London
Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Yale Repertory Theatre, New York
Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center, Long Wharf Theatre, Mark Taper
Forum, Public Broadcasting (TV), BBC/NPR (radio), and The Shakespeare
I shall never forget him as Richard III in the 1990 production at the
intimate Folger Library's Elizabethan Theater, the then home of the
Shakespeare Theatre company for 20 years. Keach was magnificent,
certainly the most memorable Richard I have ever seen. A _New York
Times_ critic, Mel Gussow, described that production this way: "Stacy
Keach leaps into the role of 'Richard III' with diabolical delight and
the gleefulness of an actor who knows he has a captive audience. A smile
turns into a sneer as he begins his exploration at the Shakespeare
Theater at the Folger in Washington." His seduction of Lady Anne was
breath-taking as was his removing the metal brace he wore on Richard's
cripple leg to fight his enemies. Keach was marvelous; never has an
actor had so much fun playing the evil Richard. This _Richard_ was
directed by Michael Kahn, the Shakespeare Theatre's artistic director.
Kahn took over the troubled company for the 1986-1987 season. By March
1992, after a 21-year association of the Shakespeare Theatre with the
Folger Library, Kahn had raised the company's reputation to its being
known as one of the finest classical theater groups in the United States
and raised enough money to build The Lansburgh Theatre, increasing the
company's nightly seat capacity from 250 at the Folger to 451. I greatly
prefer the Lansburgh to the new cavernous Harmon Center, but I realize
that mounting productions as lavish as those for which the Shakespeare
Theatre is known requires enormous amounts of money and thus the new
775-seat Sidney Harman Hall.
Keach returned to the Shakespeare Theatre to play Macbeth in 1995. The
current production of _King Lear_ originally was initial staged at the
Goodman Theatre with much the same cast as is now performing in DC
(Video of excerpts from Goodman Theatre production:
Falls conceived this _Lear_ for "a very specific time and place,"
war-torn 1990s Yugoslavia because he "wanted to challenge" himself "into
thinking about theatre and about life in a more immediate, contemporary,
My family and I were enormously impressed by the acting, especially of
Keach in the title role and Edward Gero as the sympathetic Earl of
Gloucester. I have been a fan of Gero's since he came to the Shakespeare
Theatre in 1983; he has since then performed in more than 70 productions
playing Edmund, Kent, and Cornwall before taking on Gloucester to
The acting in this production was, for the most part, as good as it
gets. The only quibble that my family and I had involved the conception.
We have a strong preference for fast-paced Shakespeare, not the normal
fare at the Shakespeare Theatre, and thought that at several occasions
non-textual interpolations in the service of the conception took far
more stage time than was necessary, detracting from the overall impact
of the production. Nevertheless, we were all standing during the ovation
at the end of this stunning production.
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
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