Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pennington's Lear

In New York for a bit of culture--we popped over to Brooklyn to  see Michael Pennington's King Lear.  The presentation seems to have sold out before it was advertised; Mrs. B happened upon it while surfing and snapped up the last two tickets at a preview.  In sum: I probably haven't seen enough to judge, but for  my money, Michael Pennington may be the best Shakespearean actor alive.  I judge on a fairly thin record: this Lear and his performance back in 2010 in a Peter Brook presentation of Shakespeare's sonnets.  Well, that and his three marvellous "director's commentaries"--on Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night, as profitable as anything I've read about Shakespeare in years.

Pennington was, as I say, wonderful: he's a Lear who is querulous and  cranky and demanding--all those things you youngsters hate about us wrinklies and crumblies--but he also has dignity and inspires awe.  I think I know why: he doesn't shout.  Or didn't shout until the last few minutes when he carries Cordelia onto the stage.  By this time you're ready to grant that he has something to shout about, and you'll value even more highly the nuance that went before.

Pennington, then, was worth the price of admission but the production as a whole was oddly disjointed.  Most of the cast seemed to have their characters nailed and most seemed to have a good handle on Shakespearean diction--no small feat where so many actors seem to wangle their way onto the stage with no sense about how to handle Shakespeare at all.  I suppose you have to credit the director for this which is fine, but then I'd guess you'd have to blame him for the fact that the performance as a whole didn't seem to jell. Which left you in the odd position of feeling that however much you might admire Pennington as an actor, you really didn't really engage with his fate all that much.

I'm not sure just why this was so but it did seem that three, maybe for or five, of the cast, for all their proficiency with the Shakespearean manner, simply didn't know how to put their lines across.  That would include Cordelia and the fool; a Lear without his fool loses a lot of his punch and a Lear without Cordelia has problems not easily surmounted.

No mater; this is Pennington's show and if you get a chance to score a ticket, grab it. You may not be enchanted but you certainly won't be disappointed.

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