Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"King Lear" rants, raves and compels at Stratford

Lightning flashes, thunder booms, fog pours forth, the rain descends in torrents, the smell of dampness and despair are present as Colm Feore, as King Lear, rants against the elements and humankind in the Stratford Festivals powerful and unnerving “King Lear.”

The role of Lear is one of the most coveted in theatrical history.  The script has been rewritten several times, but one thing remains clear.  The lead role is one of the most difficult, yet compelling characters ever written.   He is a Shakespearean  tragic character, “a man of noble stature who has outstanding qualities of greatness about him, but is destroyed because of a desire to accomplish a cause or standup for a principle.”

In Lear’s case, he is a man unwilling to face death.  He is forced to eventually realize his finitude when Cordelia, his youngest daughter, dies.  Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud said of the scene when the Lear carries his dead daughter onto the stage, her body causes him “to make friends with the necessity of dying.”  And, with this, Lear’s desire to skirt death psychologically destroys him, and his cause is lost.

The story concerns an aging king of Britain, who decides to abandon the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters.  Lear’s daughters must, however, tell him how much they love him.  Goneril and Regan, the eldest, flatter their father.  The youngest, Cordelia, recounts that she has no words to describe her love.  Lear, assuming that his favorite daughter does not return his affection, rejects her, cutting her off from her entitled land.  Without a dowry, her prospects for obtaining a royal husband disappear.  Or so Lear thinks.  In fact, the King of France still desires her.  They wed and flee to France without Lear’s blessing.

Lear’s quick decision soon turns wrong as the daughters to whom he gave his land and powers, betray him.  As we observe, he descends into depression.   

Questions arise. What would cause a man to reject and ban his favorite daughter because she refuses to tell him why he is so wonderful, while he divides his estate between his two manipulative and false daughters ?  Is Lear psychologically insane or a victim of physical dementia?  Should the man be rejected or pitied?  Is he a tyrant or a pathetic soul?

Gloucester, a loyal nobleman, realizes what is happening and befriends Lear.  To get back at him, he is blinded by Regan and her dastardly husband.  Wandering in the heath, his son Edgar saves the blind Gloucester from falling off a cliff and is taken to Dover, where Lear has also been brought.  Cordelia, hearing of the plight of her father, brings French troops to help regain Lear’s power.  She is defeated, put in prison and is executed.  Lear, distraught, dies out of grief in an emotionally wrenching scene.

This is the stuff of which great Shakespearean plays are made.

“King Lear,” under the definitive direction of Antoni Cimolino, is superb.  Every aspect of the production works.  The set design, the lighting and sound, the special effects, the costuming, all advance the story. 

There is not a single chink in the acting armor.  Feore traverses the ladder of emotions with ease.  The element underscored soliloquy is so effective that the audience literally gave a collective sigh of relief and a resounding roar of applause when it was completed.

Maev Beaty and Lisa Repo-Martell were properly obnoxious as Lear’s older daughters, while  Sara Farb was charming and appealing as Cordelia, the youngest daughter.  Scott Wentworth was excellent as Gloucester.  The scene in which he was blinded was wrenching.

Capsule judgement: Stratford’s “King Lear” is a must see production.  Every aspect of the staging works.  This is a presentation that teaches the audience what superb theatre is all about. 

For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to