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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the BAM Harvey Theatre

By Robert L. Daniels

  Ian McKellen

Ripeness is all! (Act V, Scene II)

The Royal Shakespeare Company has come to Brooklyn with a rich, imposing and illuminating production of the Bard's most savage drama, King Lear. At the turbulent center of the production in the title role is Ian McKellen, one of Britain's most cherished and honored actors. McKellen is an actor of extraordinary insight and invention. He is, like Olivier and Gielgud before him, one of the theater's great visionaries. His Lear touches many compelling facets. At the start we glimpse the majesty and nobility of a true king. What follows is a foolish and egotistical old patriarch, grasping in vain for the shelter of his coldly indifferent and deceptive daughters. Crazed and crushed by traitorous deception, McKellen's tattered ruler becomes a vain doddering old fool in a futile search for some semblance of loyalty and love. From his bellowing storm tossed howl to the whisper of his death, the actor cuts a masterful image. Not since the definitive Lear of Morris Carnovsky at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. three decades ago, have I seen such a persuasive and fully drawn portrait of the wronged king.

As staged by Trevor Nunn, the production boasts an authoritative and fluent sense of clarity. There is a dandy sword fight between Edmund and Edgar, a thunderous storm and moments of peril and redemption upon the windswept Dover cliffs. And yes, Mr. McKellen drops his pants briefly in a storm toss'd moment.

Sylvester McCoy's Fool is a supple mime of wisdom and frivolity. The impetuous Edgar is acted with open faced loyalty and nobility by Ben Meyles , while his malevolent brother Edmund is invested with cunning guile by Phillip Winchester. The earnest Gloucester is played with strength and numbing realism by William Gaunt , and as always, the scene in which he is cruelly blinded is one of the Bard's most chilling moments. Guy Williams' sadistic Cornwall has the right bold and malicious thrust.

Unfortunately, the women in this production fall short of the required bite. The venomous Goneril of Frances Barber boasts a certain cold image (think Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca) but lacks a defining icy ruthlessness. Monica Dolan is vengeful and shrewish as Regan, minus the serpentine thrust.

Romola Garai as Lear's youngest daughter, Cordelia, fares a little better than her fidgety Nina in the accompanying RSC production of Chekhov's The Seagull. As the disinherited sibling, she shows a sweet youthful dignity and subtle grace.

As designed by Christopher Oram, the production has great sweep as set in a great pillared hall with glittering candelabras and crimson drapery. A booming organ prelude serves for an opening processional that offers a courtly display of regal robes and flowing gowns.



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