I took a hiatus from making my way through Henry V to make my way to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park to see King Lear featuring John Lithgow as Lear and Annette Bening as Goneril. I know, I’m not sure why either.
I have lived in and around New York nearly all my life, and have loved Shakespeare for almost as long, yet I’ve never been to Shakespeare in the Park. Hence I was a-tingle with anticipation and looked forward to sharing the experience with my college roommate, Randy.
When I saw Lear at BAM starring Derek Jacobi I cried. I cried when he raged in the storm. I cried when Gloucester lost his eyes and then reconciled with his son. And I cried when Lear carried Cordelia on stage. I cried a lot.
Tonight the only crying I considered doing was to lament how good this production was not, how warm and stuffy I felt, and how I wished that the woman next to us had heard of Ricola. Randy might have cried about these things too had she not been napping.
To quote Macbeth, there was a lot of sound and fury in this production but it signified nothing. It seems to me that most of the parts were miscast, and the director and actors mistook volume and flailing for emotion and pathos.
John Lithgow gave an ambitious and energetic performance. I surely admire his stamina, but he simply did not engage us enough to convey the depth and breadth of despair that defines King Lear. Annette Bening was a perfectly adequate Goneril, but I didn’t hate her as much as she deserved. Gloucester, who should elicit immense sympathy, fell flat. The eye extraction which should create the tension and revulsion in the “Is it safe” dental adventure in Marathon Man lost its impact with barely visible but silly squirts of stage blood.
I found many of the other characters downright annoying, save for Cordelia and Edgar. While certainly not stellar, they were candles in the wind of an otherwise blustery performance in the heart of Central Park on a breezy summer night.
We attended the opening night party afterward, but that, too disappointed. We were starving because we’d eaten a light dinner early. The advertised “food” consisted of a few passed pretty but paltry desserts. A DJ spun electronica and we watched a women in too-high heels fall out of her too-low dress. And then, bored, tired, hot, and a little disappointed we left.
The experience of Shakespeare al fresco at night in the park in New York was terrific. The play, not so much.