Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

King Lear
Shakespeare & Company
Review by Fred Sokol


Christopher Lloyd
Photo by Katie McKellick
Shakespeare & Company opened a freshly resplendent open air space entitled The New Spruce Theatre this past Friday evening and, 50 minutes into King Lear clouds from above burst forth with rain showers. The inaugural audience, after a pause, was ushered indoors to the Tina Packer Playhouse and, with nary a hitch, the production continued for another couple of hours. Christopher Lloyd stars as the title character and he is complemented by several sterling Shakespeare & Company veterans as well as some newcomers. The enthralling presentation certainly honors the text of this great, complex tragedy. One must applaud cast, crew, and those who constructed the outdoor theater within three months' time. On this evening, all actors delivered the final two hours of Lear surely and smoothly, without any accompanying set.

It is virtually impossible to appreciate Lear without some plot knowledge at hand. This king, aged and haughty, will relinquish his British crown and divide his territory among his three daughters. He intends to bequeath the grand share to the one who flatters him most significantly. Goneril (MaConnia Chesser) and Regan (Jennie M. Jadow) quickly tell their father how they love him. Cordelia (Jasmine Cheri Rush), whom he loves and favors most, hasn't any language to describe her feelings for Lear. Furious, he disowns Cordelia—a choice he later regrets. The elderly leader gradually loses his grip on his faculties.

Gloucester (Nigel Gore) is another noble human who is struggling with family issues. His bastard son Edmund (Bryce Michael Wood) convinces Gloucester that the legitimate son Edgar (Nomè SiDone) is set upon slaying his father. Ultimately, Gloucester is blinded and, after that horrific sequence, comes to realize true goings-on.

By the end of the play, many have succumbed. It's a bleak but not surprising spiral as the various subplots foretell death.

King Lear is about power, love, madness and mortality. It addresses siblings and fathers' relationships to offspring. The Shakespeare & Company rendering, directed by Nicole Ricciardi, is full, complete and multi-directional.

Lloyd is one member of a talented cast but he does not dominate. This is not Christopher Lloyd's King Lear. He is a disciplined stage actor who sits inside the character and moves from a relatively normal realm to one in which Lear is losing his mental grasp. Never rushing, he proceeds incrementally and with nuance. A few times, he opens his eyes wide and his startled look recalls his character, Taber, in the 1975 film of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and a decade later his role as Emmett "Doc" Brown in the Back to the Future films. The performer has taken part in more than 200 plays which, including appearances in New York City and on the regional stage, too. He is skilled and knowing. Unfortunately, at the performance I attended, his voice did not project well either outside or inside. Thus, some of the Shakespeare dialogue is lost. A couple of times, his speaking angle was such that he was not delivering words toward the house seats. When fully heard, Lloyd's Lear is temperamental, affecting and complicated.

Actors Wood, as Edmund, and SiDone, as Edgar, are energetic and edgy. Jonathan Epstein plays an important supplementary character, the Earl of Kent. Epstein, with the company since 1987, is frequently one of this troupe's most galvanic presences on stage and he does not disappoint here. Artistic Director Allyn Burrows plays a versatile Fool in this production. This Fool is smart and also musically adept when singing and playing ukulele, adding welcome comic relief to the evening.

The outdoor theater, showcasing a half dozen or so tall, handsome spruce trees, is inviting as it recalls this company's many years of outside successes at the nearby Mount. The Spruce Theatre is modern and comfortable, and its seating and sight lines are exemplary.

While Shakespeare's content for King Lear is catastrophic, one of its themes focuses upon what is true and right. Lear's decision to remove himself as an authority leads to chaotic circumstances. He does briefly reconcile with Cordelia. Not the sharply thinking man he once was, Christopher Lloyd's Lear manifests a human being who is falling apart. An overarching question permeates this extraordinary play: could either the world four centuries ago or (for that matter) our contemporary one be just?

King Lear runs through August 28, 2021, at Shakespeare & Company's New Spruce Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox MA. For tickets and information, call 413-637-3353 or visit shakespeare.org.


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