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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center


  Lilly Englert and Michael Pennington/ Ph: Carol Rosegg

It’s raining Lears! Since comparisons to Frank Langella’s towering portrayal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music are all but obligatory (and we’ve still got John Lithgow’s to go, this summer in the park), it must be said that Michael Pennington – in the Theatre for a New Audience version, directed by Arin Arbus – presents a homier, more “relatable” tyrant. Once the monarch is brought low by his two-faced daughters (terrific Rachel Pickup and Bianca Amato, respectively sugary and steely), he soon casts off all trace of his former hauteur. Pennington’s Lear-in-the-wilderness is just a sad, lost old man, teetering on the edge of losing it – his very self, along with all his worldly goods.

And in an interesting twist, it’s easy to spot markers of this path toward disintegration even in the opening scene, as Lear cedes the reins. There’s a sense that even he knows that in repudiating Cordelia (Lilly Englert, whose regrettable speech impediment makes her sound too much the child), he has gone too far. This Lear is familiar in the core sense. He’s easy to picture at an everyman’s Thanksgiving dinner, throwing a fit over who gets the wishbone and knowing, even as he does so, that he’s acting like a petulant brat.

Despite the ongoing marvels of Pennington’s sonorous voice and Lear's elder daughters’ mean-girl shenanigans (“Unnatural hags!” he roars), the first scene proves the high point of this plodding production. Chandler Williams makes for a bland bastard Edmund, and Jacob Fishel is way too actory as valiant legit son Edgar. (Even as addled Poor Tom, Fishel persists in “dramatic” finger-pointing gestures: who talks like that, sane or less so?) Christopher McCann plays loyal Gloucester like a fussy petty functionary. We know, going in, that Gloucester’s fate will and should break our hearts, but here one is happy to hear an end to McCann’s high-pitched, needling commentary and, later, barking sobs.

At least Timothy D. Stickney puts in a fine, upstanding Kent. Otherwise, it’s a long, dry slog – particularly since Riccardo Hernandez’s minimalist set, though handsome, offers little of visual interest to latch onto. The odd piece of furniture aside (e.g., a lectern for Lear’s map, a chair in which to clamp Gloucester), it consists of two massive coppery planes, floor and back wall, with the latter slowly tipping menacingly closer. Even a big bang can’t make up for the lack of build-up in this lackluster production.


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