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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Public , New York

By Robert L. Daniels

  Kevin Kline/Photo: Michael Daniel

King Lear, Shakespeare's vastest, complex and most savage tragedy, has thundered its way into the Public Theater making a bold theatrical impact. The emotional sweep of its nearly three hour turn is made palatable and compelling by a well balanced cast, led by a perceptibly robust Kevin Kline.

Kline has triumphed as Hamlet, Henry V, Richard III and Benedick for Gotham audiences, and it seemed to be in the natural coarse of events that he would want to climb Everest to take on the role of the betrayed king. But at the age of 59, one wonders if he is ready to reach the summit. Laurence Olivier first played the role at the age of 39, but it wasn't until he was 75, that he triumphed in the part, and by then he couldn't carry his dead daughter, Cordelia, who had to be lifted with hidden wires in order to deceive television audiences. .

There is much to savor in Kline's intelligent approach. He is a noble and imperious Lear, if not truly majestic. With snowy white whiskers, looking perfect for G.B. Shaw's Shotover( in Heartbreak House), he offers a figure of imposing fury on the heath at the center of a raging storm. His return to reason following a descent into madness reveals a tender father and a resigned outcast. Kline is a virile king in spite of the fact that the bones never rattle or creak. The aging process, so brilliantly realized by Morris Carnovsky at Stratford, Connecticut in 1975, is never apparent. When Kline strips down at the Dover cliffs, he looks like he just returned from a workout at the gym. But make no mistake, Kline is a virile Lear who balances the poignancy with the tragic folly of a fallen hero. His is an accessible Lear, and one of clarity and substance.

The Fool is played as a cartoon-ish limping redhead by Philip Goodwin. With transparent jest he speaks little barbs of truth and wisdom. The tempestuous and loyal Kent is fully realized byMichael Cerveris. Larry Bryggman is a bold but vulnerable Gloucester and I suppose the woeful gouging out of his eyes is one of the Bard's most grotesque scenes. It is played out here with a burst of cringing horror that leaves one gasping.

Brian Avers' Edgar is boldly noble and skittish as the legitimate son of Gloucester who disguises himself as a ragged Bedlam beggar. Logan Marshall-Green acts the role of Edmund, the devilish brother and a witty redemptive villain. As the conniving sisters, the Goneril of Angela Pierce and the Regan of Laura Odeh are not Shakespeare's prescribed hellcats. There is a decided shortage of ruthlessness and calculated cunning. The scorpions have lost their bite. Lear's youngest daughter, Cordelia, is played by Kristen Bush, and acted with a winsome sense of purity and devotion. A sweet touch finds the three innocent little sisters in a silent prologue, mapping out their future kingdom with colored sand. Throughout the play they add a ghostly innocence and an unnerving prediction of the unspeakable horrors that lay ahead.

Staged on a simple but functional double tier set, director James Lapine has revealed an elemental spareness of design that cuts to the quick of the action and the accessible heart of the narrative.

The thundering storm is most effective with flashes of lightening dotted by plenty of crackle and fury.

And it is to their credit that those little snippets of scene changing musical strains by Stephen Sondheim and Michael Starobin are never intrusive, yet they set a trembling and ominous mood most effectively.


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