The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.368 Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Date: August 26, 2014 at 10:12:12 AM EDT
Subject: Globe King Lear at Folger Library and Others
[Editor’s Note: The final performance I saw at The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London was King Lear with Joseph Marcell as Lear. This was an eight-actor Lear (two supernumeraries) with an ingenious doubling technique. At the back of the stage was a rack with various costumes hanging from it. As the as an actor changed roles, he or she would doff a different costume from the rack. I though it was highly effective. I also thought Marcell was adept at displaying the various personality changes that Lear goes through during the play. The production was only at the Globe for a handful of performances before going on tour.This Shakespeare’s Globe production of “King Lear” is coming to Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. from September 5 -21. It also plays Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond N. Yorkshire, 27-30 August; NYU Skirball, New York, 30 September - 12 October; Arts Emerson, Boston, 15-23 October; Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 30 October; The Broad Stage, Santa Monica, 4-16 November; Calpoly Arts, San Luis Obispo,18 November; University of California, Santa Barbara, November 21; The Moore Theatre, Seattle, 25 & 26 November; Arts Centre, Arcata, CA, 30 November. I highly recommend it. –Hardy]
Here a ‘Lear,’ There a ‘Lear’
By Peter Marks
All over the place, foolish fond old monarchs are dropping like anguished flies. In Chicago and New York, in London and Toronto and Washington, actors in shredded costumes are raging on tempest-tossed sets as stories unfold around them of woebegone fathers and callous children and realms ankle deep in stage blood.
The theater world, in short, is having a “King Lear” moment — well, actually, a whole bunch of “King Lear” moments. The supply of tragic, fulminating royals, in fact, appears inexhaustible. On the heels of the recent Lears of Derek Jacobi and Frank Langella, Stacy Keach and Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington, other Lears line up to hit their marks. Simon Russell Beale just completed a regal tour of duty, in a “Lear” at Britain’s National Theatre. John Lithgow did the same this month in New York’s Central Park. With other Lears on the boards of late from Oregon to Ontario, and still others on the near horizon, no one should be surprised to discover Washington’s Folger Theatre is joining the somber processional, with a “King Lear” arriving from Shakespeare’s Globe in London that begins performances Sept. 5.
The Globe “Lear,” featuring Joseph Marcell as the ruler who, in relinquishing his kingdom, loses his sanity and ultimately his life, will be the fifth major staging of the tragedy in this region in the last nine years — more evidence of just how intense is the fascination these days with what is to many Shakespeare’s bleakest play. Except for the comparatively more exuberant “Hamlet,” there have been more productions of “Lear” here during this period than of any other play or musical. And one is compelled to consider why.
This is not, of course, to cast aspersions on the piece itself, as sprawling and enigmatic as any in the canon: The nature of Lear’s madness is a transfixing, sleep-disturbing riddle for the ages. But why is it that “King Lear,” a play so resistant to our culture’s knee-jerk predilections for entertaining uplift and easy explanations, is also one to which we return, not just in rare instances, but again and again? And one that by dint of its challenges — exhausting length, an unwieldy knitting of parallel plots — theater companies find especially hard to get right.
I ask as one who, having seen two shaky “Lears” already this summer, the stagings with Beale in London and Lithgow in New York, approaches each new incarnation with both curiosity and a residual trepidation. I have lost count of the number of “Lears” I’ve attended, going back to an old-school production in the mid-1970s, starring the late Morris Carnovsky, at the now-defunct American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn. The cumulative experience over all these occasions has been discouraging; the play comes together truly meaningfully on only the most remarkable of evenings. It takes some extraordinary level of skill and alchemy to wrangle the disparate, discordant parts of the play, channeled most crucially through an actor who is capable of integrating the various aspects of Lear — prideful king, wounded madman, heartbroken victim — into a captivating whole.
Awful goings hence and comings hither’
Perhaps a factor in its ubiquity is a belief that “Lear” is supposed to be good for you, that audiences see it as a test for them as well as the actors — the theater’s equivalent of a decathlon. A case can certainly be made for it as the jewel in an accomplished actor’s crown, the ultimate showcase for technical and interpretive abilities honed over a career. (Previous Lears have run an esteemed gamut from John Gielgud to James Earl Jones.) And maybe, too, the drama has a hold on us because it suggests it knows a scary truth: that where the plight of human beings is concerned, the universe doesn’t give a hoot. At a time when menace seems so present in the world, a story in which the virtuous suffer and die indiscriminately right along with the wicked may seem jarringly apt.
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From The Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection