Monday, September 16, 2013

Lear's Shadow

I heard an actor years ago explain that it was impossible to do the “to be or not to be” speech in Hamlet because half the audience was subvocalizing it right along with you. Here's a modern version: you play Lear to the live audience at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, you can be sure that the enthusiasts are going to go home and fire up Netflix for the Trevor Nunn BBC version with Ian McKellen. And the comparison will not be pretty. The Ashland Lear has its merits, and it's certainly well-intentioned (ooh, you really know how to hurt a guy—ed.). But it doesn't generate awe; way too much like Sanford and Son. In truth I'm not persuaded that McKellen quite nails it either: his Lear is never exactly mad; rather more a spoiled and self-indulgent old bully who realizes too late that he has made a calamitous life choice. But he sure nails the spoiled and self-indulgent old bully part. If there is a real shortcoming here, it may be that McKellen's performance is so good that it rather dominates almost everything else on stage (but a special shoutout for the Duke of Cornwall as rendered by Guy Williams, an actor whose resume otherwise seems oddly evanescent).

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