Michael Pennington as Lear; Credit - Carol Rosegg

Michael Pennington as Lear; Credit – Carol Rosegg

Well produced Shakespeare makes me squirm with pleasure. It is all too often that the Bard is ripped to shreds with poor breathing, bad delivery and a lack of understanding on the actor’s part; which leads to an epic that is boring, antiquated and overdone. Not so with Theatre For A New Audience’s “King Lear.” Oh, I squirmed quite a lot.

Micheal Pennington was an accessible and heartbreaking Lear. Pennington is kind of actor who is totally dependable, the kind you know won’t let you down, he’ll deliver speech after speech and make the words ring in the air and settle into the brain later on to digest some more. Arin Arbus’ direction delivered the kind of simplicity that I have seen in productions in Central Park where there are only 6 props and a chest of costumes but still filling out the world of the play so well as to make one believe that there is more anyway.

King Lear begins at the retirement ceremony of the King of Britain as he bestows his kingdom onto his three daughters Goneril (Rachel Pickup), Regan (Bianca Amato) and Cordelia (Lilly Englert) dividing the land based on how much his daughters can publicly proclaim to love him. When Cordelia refuses to profess her love in such a public and false way she is banished by Lear and marries the King of France, the Earl of Kent (Timothy D. Stickney) defends Cordelia and is banished as well, coming back to the King’s side as a disguised traveller. Lear then splits the country in two between his daughters Goneril and Regan under the agreement that he’ll spend the remainder of his days living with the two of them, alternating between houses. Eventually, his daughters turn on him, restricting his power and fueling his slip into madness which ultimately leads to his own undoing. Meanwhile, Edmund (Chandler Williams), the bastard son of Glaucester (Christopher McCann) hatches a plot to overthrow his half brother (and rightful heir), Edgar (Jacob Fishel) and take over power which only leads to more misery and death. 

King Lear is no happy jaunt through the struggles of age and parent-child relationships, like all of Shakespeare’s tragedies this one is an epic. Expect the show’s run time to be almost 3 hours, and (spoiler alert) a total depressing bloodbath at the end. Time aside, the cast is large and solid, creating a world of characters that are simple, easy to access, and believable. The band playing dissonant music as sound effects was a fantastic touch. The lighting and set design were very low maintenance, allowing a flow from one scene to the next that was effortless and creative, the Director, Arin Arbus, offering a clear interpretation of the text that is at times funny and really well researched. I followed what happened in that script, I didn’t feel bored, tired or confused. This production was a perfect example of how poignant Shakespeare can still be and, when done well, how important it still is. Bravo! 

King Lear,  by William Shakespeare, directed by Arin Arbus.

WITH: Michael Pennington (King Lear), Timothy D. Stickney (Earl of Kent), Christopher McCann (Earl of Gloucester), Rachel Pickup (Goneril), Bianca Amato (Regan), Lilly Englert (Cordelia), Graham Winton (Duke of Albany), Saxon Palmer (Duke of Cornwall), Jon Stewart Jr. (Duke of Burgundy, Ensemble), Terry Doe (King of France, The Fool), Jacob Fishel (Edgar), Chandler Williams (Edmund), Mark H. Dold (Oswald)  Robert Langdon Lloyd (Knight, Old Man, Doctor), Benjamin Cole (Ensemble), Jason Gray (Ensemble), Jonathan Hooks (Ensemble), Patrick McAndrew (Ensemble), Ryan McCarthy (Ensemble), Ian Temple (Ensemble), Ariel Zuckerman (Ensemble).

MUSICIANS: Michael Attias, Pascal Niggenkemper, Satoshi Takeishi

Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez, Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Marcus Doshi, Composing/Sound Design by Michael Attias, Co-Sound Design by Nicholas Pope, Fight Direction by B.H. Barry, Movement by John Carrafa, Voice Direction by Andrew Wade, Dramaturgy by Jonathan Kalb, and Production Stage Manager Renee Lutz. At the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Pl., Brooklyn. Through May 4th. Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes