Earlier this week, we saw King Lear at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. This was one of the last tragedies that I had neither seen before nor read. Also, this production ticked off another on my list of Shakespearean plays to see. I was rather pleased by the production. Spoilers ahead.
I’m always fascinated with the staging at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. They always do such creative staging. This production was set in the present day and it worked. The play is so fundamentally human that it is something we can recognize every day. We lose our temper over misunderstandings and we make hasty decisions. Each character seems so human. Most characters aren’t necessarily evil or bad (though you can make a strong case for Edmund and Goneril). Some characters start morally gray like Regan who is more selfish than evil. But her selfishness drives her into cruelty. Others are the good guys but they lack the ability to defend themselves like Cordelia and Edgar. There is an old trope that one sin leads to the rest. I think this play really demonstrates that. Cordelia’s pride causes King Lear’s rage and it all snowballs from there. Would that Cordelia have had Hamlet’s tongue!
The play is a beautiful meditation on age and illness. Barbara Gaines read King Lear as afflicted with dementia. It really came out in the production. At various points, he’d be lost in his own mind, represented by Frank Sinatra songs. Fascinating directorial device. So beautiful and sad. The play really shows the dilemma that the three sisters face. It’s hard to deal with an ailing parent. And sadly, not all children deal with it in a positive, helpful manner.
The performances were spectacular. Larry Yando plays a fine Lear, full of sound and fury but full of vulnerability and ultimately sorrow. It’s a fantastic look at how the strongest of people can be brought low by circumstance, and ultimately their own pride. My personal favorite performance was Ross Lehman as the Fool. I had seen him before as another fool, Feste, in one of my favorite plays of all time: Twelfth Night. For those of you in Chicago, that was the show with the pool. I think he is the bees knees in acting. The witticisms of the fools flow off his tongue like water on a waterfall. It is pure delight to see him perform.
The staging was excellent. They made it rain on stage! The play recreated a mighty storm with impressive lightning. And you could feel the man’s pain as he became more and more drenched. They did have a single tree in the background for the second half that reminded me of Waiting of Godot. I’ll have to admit that I kept waiting for King Lear to ask: “Why are we waiting?” and for the Fool or Kent to ask “We’re waiting for Godot.” Now I really want a crossover production. It’s not completely crazy; both talk about age, hope/despair, etc.
So go on and see it before it closes on November 9th.