San Diego, California—What a better way to kick off the Old Globe’s summer outdoor Festival than to mount a stunning production of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “King Lear” staring Robert Foxworth and directed by Adrian Noble formally of the Royal Shakespearean Company? None that I can think of thank you.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear” now in a striking production on the Festival Stage at the Old Globe Theatre the question begs, “Is humble, honest and straightforward filial love enough to sustain and convince the rich and powerful without having to suck up?” Evidentially not for the ageing King (Robert Foxworth) who needs to hear more than just pledged love from his three daughters Goneril (Emily Swallow), Regan (Aubrey Saverino) and Cordelia (Catherine Gowl).
The powerful and egotistical Lear is ready to divide his land holdings equally three ways amongst his three daughters. The caveat however they have to fawn, grovel and say all the right things their father wants to hear. Besides that they have to divide their time with him by letting him live with them (he and one hundred of his closest followers), alternatively.
The two eldest, Goneril and Regan and their greedy mates have learned over the years that empty promises and compliments, especially those the King wants to hear, will get them everything they want including a great piece of the kingdom.
Unfortunately for his youngest, Cordelia, she doesn’t have it in her to pander. She claims, “She loves him only as a daughter should”. Lear, who truly loves her best, is so angered by her not willing to compliment and flatter him as the others, foolishly disinherits her from the kingdom.
Lear banishes his confidant the Earl of Kent (Joseph Marcell) for standing up for Cordelia, but later returns disguised as a peasant so he can continue serving his king. Lear then marries Cordelia off to the King of France (Ben Diskant) who doesn’t seem to care if she has a dowry or not.
If that weren’t enough in the sub plot, the Earl of Gloucester loyal friend of Lear, (Charles Janasz) and his sons Edgar (Jay Whittaker) and Edmond (Jonno Roberts a charming and appealing SOB) are having their own set of problems that run parallel to Lear’s except his involve his two sons, one legitimate the other the bastard (Roberts).
With the same themes of greed, suspicion, deception, son against father and father against son both kings fall victim to their heirs and their own misdeeds until both find themselves outcasts and wandering in the no man’s land of insanity blinded by their own nearsightedness.
Foxworth, an associate artist at the Globe has his fair share of successes here over the years, his last playing the racist governor of Alabama, George Wallace in the 2009 production of “Cornelia”.
In a production that satisfies all the senses, Foxworth takes command from the moment he comes on stage looking regal and smug announcing his intent to divide his lands. Unfortunately he is blindsided by his own sense of worth, which ultimately leads to his destruction. While everyone knows his foolish folly and may object to his stubbornness, Foxworth makes Lear more of a sympathetic character than a tyrannical one.
His supporters and those who would see him ruined surround him, cheer him on and give him the bravado he needs. But as his daughters malign him and his station weakens his transformation from mighty king and warrior to broken old man is heartbreaking. Foxworth is more than up to the task as we watch his agony unfold and listen to the downward struggle he faces, with a clarity every Shakespeare aficionado will embrace.
With the Old Globe celebrating its 75th year anniversary this 2010 Shakespeare Festival is full of surprises not the least of which is the colorful collection of fall leaves covering the stage (a wooden platform that juts out almost to edge of the stage and reaches back into the wooded grove in back of the theatre) on which Lear begins his journey into Hell. (Ralph Funicello). The ferocious storms with thunder and lightning clapping and snow falling and swirling (Alan Burnett, lighting, Christopher R. Walker, sound and Shaun Davey, music) adds to the madness felt by Lear as he shouts against it all in rage.
Blood and gore and plucked out eyes (Regan’s husband, the duke of Cornwall)) dripping with the red stuff have been a rarity in past Shakespeare Festivals under the tutelage of Darko Tresnjak, who had been at the helm of the Shakespeare Fest these last five or so years. (Frankly, yours truly could do without the gore). But when Lear comes across his old friend Gloucester who by now has had his eyes plucked out and is wandering senseless and blind, the agony of the two men comes full circle.
Kudos to Noble for bringing a compassion and understanding to these tragic figures making them as real human beings rather than larger than life despotic untouchables.
Special mention to Charles Janasz a regular at these festival events, for another fine performance as Gloucester. Janasz is one of the more versatile returnees who will be performing in all three plays this summer. Bruce Turk is another favorite playing the fool with his amazing body language and facial expressions that are always a welcome face in the crowd. As usual it’s the fool who sees the reality of the tragedy, babbles while predicting it but can’t stop it from happening. For all his truth and folly, he gets his in the end as well.
Emily Swallow is hard as nails as Goneril leading the pack to the ultimate destruction of the King’s reign. Aubrey Saverino is equally menacing as Regan following in her sister’s footsteps as if she had no mind of her own. Both personify the evil that ultimately gets ‘um.
Catherine Gowl’s Cordelia is blindly devoted to her father even though it leads to exile. She is heartbreakingly troubled by her father’s actions and her own inability and stubbornness to stop the inevitable. When she finally comes, with her own army, to rescue him forgiveness and reconciliation comes, but late.
Deirdre Clancy’s costumes set the action in the 18th century in Act I but shift dramatically to some futuristic time in Act II that didn’t seem to make sense. The early period gowns are outstandingly beautiful and quite a contrast to the bullet colored military outfits of the women in the second act.
Madness, death, good and evil, hope and despair, cruelty and humanity, betrayal and chaos, justice and injustice are all underlying themes in “Lear”. That they all merge and set the tone for another of life’s tragedies is evident. That anything is solved after sitting through this amazing production is in the eye of the beholder.
In the scheme of things, the good die with the bad. Justice might prevail but no one lives happily ever after, not in this one anyway. Don’t miss it though. Nobel and friends have done themselves proud. It’s Shakespeare at its best.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: July 26th-Sept. 23, 2010 (Check times and dates)
Organization: Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Tragedy
Where: Old Globe Theatre 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: $29.00-$78.00
Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre