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Stage Door: "King Lear" in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park shutters for another year this Sunday August 17th, so you only have a couple more chances to see King Lear. I can't claim that King Lear is one of my favorite plays and as far as interpretations of it go, nobody is ever going to beat Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985), you know?

The Bening and John Lithgow star in "King Lear" in Central Park

John Lithgow headlines and is quite strong as the rapidly declining hot-tempered looneytunes King who stupidly gives everything away to his two eldest daughters (Annette Bening and Jessica Hecht) while shunning the youngest who truly loves him. Lithgow is having a good year; I urge all of you to see his excellent work in Love is Strange when it opens later this month. I had entirely forgotten about the B story in King Lear which is like a reflection of the A story, in which another father is (literally) blinded when it comes to his sons. I didn't fully love this production where much of it was good but few things excellent. Oddly, I was most drawn to the actors I was least familiar with like Jessica Collins as Cordelia, Eric Sheffer Stevens as Edmund, and Steven Boyer as Fool. Most disappointing for me was The Bening. You know that she is my beloved but her lines were spoken without a lot of discernable emotional content (one review claimed "learned phonetically" which I thought was terribly mean but it's not her finest hour). She does memorably fire up in the final act once her loins are ah stirred by the bastard troublemaker Edmund. 

I love the tradition of Shakespeare in the Park but I wish they would go back to the time when they did more non-Shakespeare things in this summer event series like Mother Courage and Hair and Into the Woods and whatnot. This summer they only did the Bard. You know what play would be excellent to see outdoors? Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana.


P.S. What about Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert in The Maids?

You're probably wondering why I haven't written about "The Maids" starring Huppert, Blanchett and rising actress Elizabeth Debicki (remember that wonderful first impression she made in The Great Gatsby?) and that's because I didn't get tickets. Above my price range but Shakespeare in the Park is free which is definitely within my price range! Here's a collection of reviews to read if you're interested. I've talked to two friends who've seen it and they both felt exactly the same: Debicki was best in show. How's that for a surprise... and a career-maker, at least on stage.

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Reader Comments (16)

Eric Sheffer Stevens made many hearts throb as gay and aloof Dr. Reid Stevens in the final days of As the World Turns...

August 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Interesting, I heard that Debicki fares the worst!

August 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Elizabeth Debicki was the best thing (the only good thing) about The Great Gatsby------Yes, she's gonna be star.

August 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

The critics are singling out Blanchett the most ;)

both last year when the show played in Australia and this year in NY

August 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

So do you really have to wait in line before dawn for tickets for the Public? Speaking of theater, Brantley had an interesting review of the musical Finding Neverland now playing at the A.R.T. with Jeremy Jordan (late of Smash! fame). Might have to check that one out. Pippin did well at the A.R.T. and transitioned nicely to Broadway although I think the new production still felt dated...

August 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

My favorite Shakes in the Dark was Raul Julia as Othello with Jake Weber as Iago. But it was always a great day out, even if the play wasn't up to par.

Zoo Story, Suddenly Last Summer (actually all the Williams plays would work. The humidity just fits.), JC Superstar, Waiting for Godot, Tosca, Magic Flute, almost any Janacek or Ionesco,...there is something about theater outside, and the magic of the dark and the freedom of space. A stage version of Lifeboat would be interesting.

August 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Paul Outlaw, Eric Sheffer Stevens played "Dr. Reid Oliver" on As the World Turns. One of my 2 favorite soap characters ever--4 years later and I still rewatch his and Van Hansis' scenes on YT every so often (their kisses were hot!). I almost went to NY just to see Eric in this play but alas, I didn't make it.

Oh, and interesting review. I have read that there hasn't been too much love for this play.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel

I saw The Maids in Sydney and I would say that Debicki absolutely stole the show once she was on stage, which was amazing - given the talent up there. But Blanchett and Huppert were also brilliant, of course.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Gow

@Isabel. That was me typing the same name twice while falling asleep last night...oops.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

King Lear is definitely not my favorite Shakespeare either, but I'd like to see a screen adaptation of it. I'd be hard to pull it off, as it's obviously so *theatrical* but could be interesting. It's a shame that planned adaptation with Hopkins/Knightley/Paltrow/Watts fell through a few years ago.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

King Lear is probably my favorite Shakespeare.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Pam -- there are different options. You can wait out in the line (you have to get there early, yeah. My friend went at 6 AM) or people can gift you tickets (one of my friends is a teacher and sometimes gets some seats for his students) or you can do an online lottery each day. (Apparently when Anne Hathaway was doing Twelfth Night a couple of years ago she showed up in the wee hours with a stack of pizzas for people waiting in line or something - bet she made their summers!)

i've actually never waited in line for it. but i've missed some key things (like Streep in Mother Courage) because i just can't take 7 hour waits in line for something... I'm not good with lines. I know a lot of people want to be in "the hot place" and will wait for hours but I'm like - nah, i'll take the restaurant to the side that has seats! ;)

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I've done both the wait in line and been gifted (paid scalp prices is the translation which they really frown on). Best seats were when I waited because I was further from the stage and had better sight lines. I saw Much Ado from the front row and missed a great deal because I was just too close and the playing area is just too large. Which was disappointing because it was Kevin Kline and Blythe Danner with Jerry Stiller. (But Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was sitting just a couple of rows behind me so it wasn't all for naught.)

The line wait isn't that bad if you go prepared. Its sort of like a block party, card games, reading. You get to know the other people in line, all of whom share a common interest. The occasional vendor slips though with beverages to sell. Its fun. But its an all day thing and the more popular the show, the earlier you have to be there. Great to do this with a few friends and its an 'only in NY" experience.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

LA Times:
But just as she has done for "Hedda Gabler," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Uncle Vanya," Blanchett puts her galloping radiance at the service of "The Maids," a lesser world classic but one that encourages the best of her bravado. This performance confirms her position as the most boldly captivating actress of her generation and certainly the one who thrives best in realms outside ordinary realism.

NY Times
That’s largely because of Ms. Blanchett, who won the Oscar this year for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and has been seen to dazzling effect in New York with the Sydney Theater Company productions of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Uncle Vanya.” Once again, she proves herself to be the ruling mutation master among contemporary actresses.

hihi, Cate gets such love letters from the biggest theater critics. The moment she decides to do Broadway, the Tony is hers.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJows

I love Kurosawa's "Ran" too, but I also love another filmed version, Peter Brook's film of "King Lear" with Paul Scofield. I found it extremely moving and I couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterward.

Scofield is in the tradition of great English actors, but he's also outside it, not like anyone else, unnervingly soulful. But soulful in the way that rips you apart.

August 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I was able to catch the last show of The Maids last Saturday...I was expecting to be floored by Cate as most of the reviews I had read were singing gospel praises in her favor, and Cate ended up being pretty damn good but Debicki was absolutely glorious and terrifying and delicious. Debicki definitely gets MVP status with Cate close behind--if only we could get a film remake!

August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAllen

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