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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Brooklyn Academy of Music


  Derek Jacobi/ Ph: Johan Persson

Four years ago the Royal Shakespeare Company brought an honorable and majestic production of King Lear to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, starring Sir Ian McKellen. This year BAM is again host to Shakespeare's egotistical monarch in a vast and sprawling import from London's Donmar Warehouse staged with great flourish and fury by Michael Grandage and starring Sir Derek Jacobi as the vain, imperious ruler.
Grandage has daringly staged the drama on a spacious open stage, expansive and barren, but not without emotional sweep. The boldly creamy walls and all-black costumes and gowns have been designed by Christopher Oram in stunning stark contrast that illuminates the text with clarity of purpose.
Mr. Jacobi's nuanced Lear is noble, majestic and ultimately unbearable tragic. His fanciful reunion with the blinded Gloucester is laced with humorous flourish, and his woeful finale with the lifeless body of his beloved Cordelia cradled in his arms is unbearably poignant. His heartbreaking cry of grief will bring a tremble to the staunchest heart.
The great storm scene has never been so effective. The crash of thunder subsides long enough for Lear to whisper the text, “Blow winds and crack your cheeks. Rage! Blow!” It has a chilling effect that numbs the viewer and draws one to the heart and fury of the text. The concept was first performed by Charles Laughton at Stratford-on-Avon in 1959. Laughton believed the storm raged “inside” Lear. And with extraordinary insight Mr. Jacobi chillingly shares his rage with quiet desperation.
How well I recall the roaring Lears of Orson Welles (who played the king in a wheel chair at City Center in 1956 after spraining both ankles), the great Morris Carnovsky at Stratford in 1975, Anthony Hopkins at London's National Theater in 1986, Plummer at Lincoln Center in 2004 and McKellen at BAM in 2007.
Seldom has the wronged king been surrounded by such a superb assemblage of players. Michael Hadley is the loyal Earl of Kent. Alec Newman defines treachery as Edmund, and Paul Jesson is the gullible Gloucester, who reveals the Bard's most soul-cringing moment when bound and blinded. His futile attempt at suicide on the Dover cliffs is sadly admirable. Ron Cook's Fool is compassionate and pungent. Edgar, disguised as a Bedlam beggar, is acted by Gwilym Lee, with formidable contrasting guises.
The hellcats, Goneril (Gina McKee) and Regan (Justine Mitchell) reflect opposite personalities with a kind of regal bitchiness that cruelly fuels Lear's fury. Pippa Bennett-Warner offers a quietly controlled Cordelia of understated inner and outer beauty.
“Ripeness is all!” Edgar rallies on the battlefield. The final glory is found in the extraordinary range and depth of Derek Jacobi's sense of grandeur and majestic folly.

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