King Lear OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Sara Krulwich
  • King Lear
  • NY TIMES

  • VARIETY

  • AMNY

  • NBC

  • DAILY NEWS

Opening Night:
August 5, 2014
Closing:
August 17, 2014

Theater: Delacorte Theatre / Central Park, New York, NY, 10023

Synopsis: 

Revenge, rage, grief and delusion thunder upon the Delacorte as Tony and Emmy Award winner John Lithgow takes the stage as one of theater’s great tragic heroes, King Lear. Tony winner Daniel Sullivan directs Shakespeare’s classic drama about a King who loses everything—including his mind—when he disowns his favorite daughter, and finds himself betrayed in return.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF King Lear

    Sharper Than Serpents’ Teeth ‘King Lear’ in the Park, Starring John Lithgow

    Ben Brantley

    August 6, 2014: And it started out as such a lovely evening. For the first few minutes of Daniel Sullivan’s fast-moving if stiff-jointed production of King Lear, which opened at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on Tuesday night, it’s possible to imagine that tragedy is not waiting in the wings. The mood is unusually festive, and the king, played by a fully immersed John Lithgow, seems like a jolly old soul. After all, this is his retirement celebration, a time for toasting a new, carefree chapter in life and listening to everybody go on about how wonderful he is. Then Little Miss I-Cannot-Tell-a-Lie has to open her mouth and spoil it all. “Nothing, my lord,” says the severe Cordelia (Jessica Collins), Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, when asked what she has to add to the testimonies of her sisters (Annette Bening and Jessica Hecht) about how much they adore their dad. Suddenly, the party’s over, and one really big hangover — the fatal kind — has already set in. The almost blithe beginning of this King Lear, the first version to be staged at this theater since 1973, teasingly matches the holiday mood that theatergoers bring to Shakespeare in the Park. Some people have queued up for hours for the chance to sit under the stars and hear a really good story, told in poetry that sings. Even if it’s tragedy that’s on offer, that doesn’t have to mean ponderousness, does it?

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  • VARIETY REVIEW OF King Lear

    Off Broadway Review: John Lithgow, Annette Bening in ‘King Lear’

    Gordon Cox

    August 5, 2014: John Lithgow has a great gift for playing comedy high (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and low (3rd Rock from the Sun). So who would think he’d give us such a piteous Lear? The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park staging of King Lear, directed by Daniel Sullivan, has its ups and downs, the big downers being a weird production concept and questionable casting. But Lithgow and those thesps who play the maddened king’s faithful supporters (chiefly his Fool and those loyalists Kent and Gloucester) form an emotional core that validates this sympathetic view of Lear as a foolish old man who commits one rash act and almost immediately regrets it. This Lear seems vulnerable at the outset, and the production design has much to do with that. The coarse materials of John Lee Beatty’s set — a bare wood-planked stage, bounded by a high back wall covered in rough burlap and shot through with metallic rods — suggest the medieval period. Or, if that pre-curtain Druidic rigmarole of blessing the stage is meaningful, the earlier, even more primitive era of Celtic England. This constricted setting, cut off from the Delacorte’s sweeping views of the park, drastically limits Lear’s kingdom, along with his majesty. In dispensing with all the trappings of royalty (no castle, no court, not even a throne to rest the king’s royal bones), the production robs Lear of all the authority of his station. More damaging, it undermines a major theme of the play — the chaos (and attendant wars and suffering) that ravages the land when the sovereign power of a mighty kingdom breaks down.

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  • AM NEW YORK REVIEW OF King Lear

    'King Lear' review: John Lithgow superb in latest Shakespeare in the Park production

    Matt Windman

    August 5, 2014: There may be a surplus of King Lear revivals this year but that's no reason to miss out on or take for granted the straightforward but superb Shakespeare in the Park production of the play with John Lithgow and Annette Bening. King Lear hasn't been done by the Public Theater in the park for more than 40 years (not since James Earl Jones played the title role). To be frank, it's easier to do one of Shakespeare's lighter romantic comedies in the park than any of the great tragedies. Daniel Sullivan, who has directed a Shakespeare play at the Delacorte virtually every year since 2007, is a playwright’s director, emphasizing the text and psychological motivation over conceptual gimmicks and visual displays. His Lear looks pretty simple, with just a wooden platform and a wall that suggests surrounding woodland. The costumes convey the play’s original setting of a pre-Christian, feudal England. While that may sound unexciting, especially for those who’ve seen plenty of other productions of the play, it proves to be exceptionally acted, engrossing and well-integrated among the ensemble.

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  • NBC NEW YORK REVIEW OF King Lear

    Review: Lithgow's "Lear" a Crowning Achievement

    Robert Kahn

    August 5, 2014: The wholly committed John Lithgow and a talented, risk-taking ensemble propel themselves through three hours of family strife and bloody betrayal in the disquieting King Lear that has just opened at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. John Lee Beatty’s dark set sets the tone for the tragedy, which hasn’t been seen at Shakespeare in the Park since 1973. (Is the three-hour-plus King Lear the gentlest summertime fare? Can I ask you again at 11:30 p.m. when you’re waiting for a C train home?) The familiar characters come and go through a half-dozen doors evenly spaced underneath a daunting wall of mesh, with dozens of short spears tucked into it at random intervals. It’s a severe and unusual backdrop. Unlike past SITP productions, which have capitalized on The Delacorte’s natural setting, this one—unfolding under the as-swiftly-paced-as-Lear-can-be direction of SITP vet Daniel Sullivan (last season’s The Comedy of Errors, etc.)—removes any sense that you’re even in Central Park. You might wonder what it would be like if the play’s famous storm on a heath could transpire among trees. It’s difficult not to have a soft spot for Lithgow’s tragic monarch, here a reasonable fellow blinded, just momentarily, by the insincere flattery of his two oldest daughters, Goneril and Regan (movie star Annette Bening, in her SITP debut, and lauded stage and TV actress Jessica Hecht).

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  • NEW YORK DAILY NEWS REVIEW OF King Lear

    Public Theater's 'King Lear,' with John Lithgow, Annette Bening, Jessica Hecht and Jessica Collins, needs more to truly rule

    Joe Dziemianowicz

    August 5, 2014: For its star, King Lear offers a Mount Everest. The Public Theater’s revival of Shakespeare’s classic is so middle of the road, however, it takes audiences to a far less lofty high. Like, say, to the Catskills. John Lithgow leads this umpteenth starry take on the tragedy to run in New York (actually, seven since 2007). He’s petulant and sympathetic as the age-mauled monarch. The show also offers the first look at Annette Bening on stage here in nearly 30 years. As Lear’s ferocious firstborn, Goneril, Bening summons her American Beauty bitchery. She beams an evil eye and gestures emphatically with an outstretched arm as though bullying the air — if not her sisters Regan (Jessica Hecht) and Cordelia (a spirited Jessica Collins). Bening is fine in her theatrical return — no more, no less. And that’s par for the course in this proficient but seldom stirring production directed by Daniel Sullivan, whose Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino and Twelfth Night with Anne Hathaway at the open-air Delacorte were indelible. Sullivan’s latest revival — set against a forbidding wall that becomes a huge projection screen — hits its marks and is well-spoken. The amplification is so fine-tuned every syllable of poetry registers. And every muffed line, too. What’s missing is a core idea to capitalize on Lithgow’s distinctive talents. Too bad, since the actor excels at wacky (Third Rock From the Sun), wicked (Dexter, Cliffhanger) and WASP-y (Mrs. Farnsworth). Lithgow talks the talk fluently. But the portrait that develops is a Lear more sinned against than sinning — and more ordinary than remarkable.

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