Thursday, October 09, 2014

Madness of a Tragic King

King Lear
by William Shakespeare

Barbara Gaines, Director

"Howl, howl, howl!  O, you are men of stones.
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
That heaven's vault should crack.  She's gone forever.
I know when one is dead, and when one lives. 
She's dead as earth.  Lend me a looking glass."

- King Lear (V, iii, 258-262)

The current production of King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is successful primarily due to the astonishing performance of Larry Yando as Lear.  This seems to be due not only to his fine acting but also to the direction of the play that centers the action on Lear from the opening moments - with a prologue that is not in the original play -  to the final scene.  That this production has this focus is not unexpected, after all the title of the play is "King Lear", but doing so masks some of the flaws in the production;  one that used a contemporary setting and the songs of Frank Sinatra as backdrop for the 
tragedy of Lear. 

While enjoying the production as a whole, again mainly due to Larry Yando's exceptional performance, the evening was not without its disappointments.  First the good aspects:  Joining Yando with strong dramatic turns were Kevin Gudahl as Kent, Michael Aaron Lindner as Gloucester and Steve Haggard as his son Edgar.  On the other hand the portrayal of the daughters, especially Cordelia was not as strong and at the opening scene when Lear requests their declarations of love Nehassaiu deGannes as Cordelia appeared to be tentative and ineffective.  The performance of Jesse Luken as Edmund was one that did not bring the weight and force of language necessary for this essential role that rivals Iago in Shakespeare's catalog of evil characters.  The remainder of the company performed well enough to be worthy support for the magnificent Lear portrayal in this production.  The staging, especially the thunder and lightning of the storm on the heath was, in contemporary vernacular, simply awesome.  

Overall this was another great production from CST although anytime King Lear is well performed you are hard pressed to say you enjoyed the play.  This is the darkest of Shakespeare's plays with Lear's madness and the most tragic of endings, emphasized in this production with the dead Cordelia held in the King's arms.  Still, with all the tragic darkness there is much food for thought in the many wonderful words of this, one of Shakespeare's greatest plays.


Brian Joseph said...

Great post James.

This is indeed Shakespeare's most nihilistic work and I would argue one of the darkest works ever.

I have never seen a great performance of it live but I really need to!

James said...


King Lear is certainly a very dark work. It is a difficult play to perform and I am fortunate to have seen it twice. In addition to the performance this week I saw an even better production about twenty years ago when the Renaissance Theater Company from Great Britain came to Chicago. I still remember Richard Briers as Lear and Emma Thompson as the Fool. Their performances were astonishing.