King Lear at Shakespeare Theatre's Sidney Harmon Hall

I'll be honest with you - I thoroughly enjoyed King Lear. It was interesting and visually spectacular. That's not to say that there were not problems, but what performance is perfect? I'll admit that I'm not as familiar with this play as I am with others. The only other performance I saw of Lear was an hour-long version done by the YCTC kids a couple of years ago, which had the key plot points, but it was also a good while ago.

Going into the show with so little experience was a bit daunting. This is a huge work full of sub plots and random characters. For me, a sign of a good production is whether or not I can understand easily what is going on (especially if I don't know the show very well). Check that off for this production. I could follow along with pretty much no problem, even if I didn't always 100% understand what people were saying. Another thing I try to notice is how often I find myself leaning forward in my chair. The chair of my college theatre department said that if people are leaning forward, you're doing something right. Even from the dizzying height of row FF, I found myself so into the action that I spent more than half the play with my elbows on my knees, chin in my hands.

Having no other experience with the show, I can't tell you whether I thought this was a gorier show than others. I liked the variation of deaths. Many of them were so unexpected that I had several moments of utter horror. It was awesome. I think my favorite was Edmund killing Regan's husband. Simple and unadorned. Gorgeous. Funny how my least favorite was Regan's death. It didn't do anything for me. The eye-gouging was sensibly gory, but not too over the top, which I did worry about. Poor Gloucester.

As I said, the production was visually amazing. So, so gorgeous. I do love a good Walt Spangler set. Especially when it looks uncannily like the set for another show he recently designed... The colors were gorgeous, even if they didn't always make sense (Edgar's first outfit - what was that?). I loved the abject opulence of everything - it made a beautiful contrast to the misery in the second act. The dumb-show of the bodies was chilling and had the effect they wanted (on me, at least) but it went on for much, much too long. It could have been 10 minutes shorter and I would have been fine. I found that the eerieness of the scene wore off because it lasted for so long, which is NOT the effect they wanted, I'm sure. The green light near the end didn't make much sense to me, but it cast a gross pall over the end of the show. Delightful.

The acting I found to be excellent, as is almost always the case with Shakespeare Theatre. Stacy Keach (King Lear) was exquisite. I hung on his every word, trying to get everything out of it that I could. I loved Goneril and Regan - the contrast between them, even being sisters, was striking. The subtleties of the characters were wonderful. If I had a pick a favorite, I'd go with Edmund. He was so perfectly slimy and charming and obviously had a great time with the character and the language. It drew me to him every time he was onstage.

Overall, I definitely think everyone should see this production. It has its flaws and its strengths, but I certainly enjoyed it.

King Lear
Sidney Harmon Center
June 16 - July 19

3 stars


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