Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
September 23, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: `King Lear’
The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival has waited 19 years
to stage a new production of "King Lear." Artistic producer
Bonnie Monte says it has been on her agenda since she her arrival
in 1991, but she wanted to wait to produce it in the new theater.
The theater is here and Shakespeare’s tragi-fairy tale of filial
and royal deception is getting its due. Under Daniel Fish’s taut
and with a substantial, if not towering, performance by Harris Yulin
in the title role, "King Lear" adds up to an admirable theater
experience. In an unusual bit of double-casting, Julyana Soelistyo
(a Tony nominee last season for "Golden Child") is terrific
playing both Cordelia and the Fool. As "the wheel comes full
"King Lear" is the best production thus far of the festival’s
A four seasons veteran at the festival, Fish takes "Lear"
intriguingly out of the Bard’s prescribed pre-Christian Britain era.
He and his designers Christine Jones (set), Kaye Voyce (costumes),
Scott Zielinski (lighting), and David Maddox (sound), have staged
the masterpiece in a timeless landscape of flashing lights and dark
shadows. Under a sloped black firmament studded with tiny lights and
only the simplest and barest decor to serve the action, the
of Lear’s kingdom define their realm with the mixing and matching
of fashions of the 19th and 20th centuries.
While this appears both a tiresome trend this season and a catch-all
remedy for budgetary concerns, in this instance it works admirably.
There is a kind of "retro-noir" atmosphere created that suits
the converging and conflicting masterfully fashioned plot lines.
That "Lear" is considered to be one of the greatest plays
of all time has to be a daunting premise for any company. The themes
of old age and the different relationships of each child to his parent
in both the main and subplots, brings universal timelessness to each
new generation of viewers. Lear’s ageless references to the behavior
of politicians and infidelity brought snickers from the audience.
Briefly, the story details King Lear’s misapprehension of his one
daughter’s devotion causing him to divide his kingdom between the
remaining two daughters who have feigned their love. Things gets a
bit nasty when the wicked daughters strip their father of all power
and at the same time involve and seduce Edmund. Edmund is the bastard
son of the Earl of Gloucester, who, like the daughters, deceives his
father by denouncing his brother Edgar as a traitor. The resulting
web of deception results in a downward spiral of devastating
The majestic sweep of the poetry is unsurpassed in all of Shakespeare.
It demands of the actors the most artful and brilliant exploration
of the characters. It is a pleasure to hear most of the actors
as if the exalted language coming from their lips was something they
spoke every day of their lives. The hand-to-hand combat scenes, as
directed by Rich Sordelet, are as real as they are gruesome. It always
helps to have a little blood spurting forth when flesh is cut. Fish
makes the scenes flow one into the other like a large dramatic
Yulin’s Lear will undoubtedly grow more courageous with
each performance. It is, to his credit, never less than intense.
Yulin establishes a more secure and believable identity during the
second half of the play in which a poignant and desperate quality
enhances his performance.
As the eldest she-fox, Goneril, Kate Skinner frowns formidably as
she subtly reveals herself as a calculating she-tiger with heart of
cold marble. As No. 2 daughter, Regan, Michelle O’Neill projects an
icy Sharon Stone-like look. Abetted by a chillingly charismatic Grant
Goodman, who plays her husband, the sadistic Duke of Cornwall, O’Neill
surfaces a genuine aura of evil through her striking good looks.
gentleness seem a crime gives Bernard K. Addison’s performance as
the Duke of Albany real heft.
As the Earl of Gloucester, Jack Ryland’s classy countenance is matched
by his dramatic authority. The equally authoritative and mad-inflected
performance of African-American actor Teagle F. Bougere is a stunner,
that is once he sheds the minstrel suit in which he first appears.
Mark Niebuhr is compellingly neurotic as his false brother Edmund.
It’s a tour-de-force for the petite and agile Soelistyo who
spews out some of the most glorious allusions in Shakespeare (a feat
few Fools seem to master). Then, as the soft and gentle Cordelia,
she also makes her presence heart breaking.
The nobility in Henry Woronicz’ performance as the Earl of Kent,
Leer’s devotee, is contrasted against the villainy of Goneril’s
played by Eric Hoffman. Like the title character, this "King
is headstrong and full of changes.
— Simon Saltzman
Theater, 36 Madison Avenue, on the campus of Drew University, Madison,
973-408-5600. $23 to $35. Through October 4.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.