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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: July ::
King Lear at the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, DC
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0375  Wednesday, 15 July 2009

From:       Hardy M. Cook <
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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 
Theatre.

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: 
http://www.goodmantheatre.org/movies/index.aspx?id=221).

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, 
daring way."

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 
Keach's Lear.

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.

_______________________________________________________________
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Hardy M. Cook, 
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