‘King Lear’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Shakespeare’s “King Lear” is based on a story of a mythical King Lear and his three daughters — but the play is no fairytale.

The first production of “King Lear,” technically entitled “M. William Shak-Speare: HIS True Chronicle History of the life and death of King Lear and his three Daughters…,” was in 1606, marking it as maybe one of the longest running plays in the history of English theater. With Lear as a new Everyman, the play has seen nearly as many adaptations as it has stage productions. As a character, King Lear has been lauded by English poets, analyzed by Viennese psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and criticized severely by Russian novelist Leon Tolstoy. The story has continued to thrive for centuries to be recounted on film, in a novel and in musical compositions.

“Caught in a carousel of memory, the head of a dysfunctional royal family grapples with power-hungry children and the threat of losing the empire he created. Real and imagined worlds coalesce, creating a political and personal horror that threatens to swallow the mind of the monarch,” said Shakespeare Theatre, summarizing what the universal story’s about. “The incomparable Patrick Page (“Hadestown,”  “The Gilded Age”) returns to [Shakespeare Theatre Company] as the once-revered king caught in an emotional hurricane ravaging his home, head, and heart.”

Directed by Simon Godwin, The Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Lear now takes its place in the long history of the play on stage, its adaption to the shared human concerns ever relevant to today’s audiences. Of this production now at the Shakespeare Theatre, a drama critic has said it might be the best version he’s ever seen.

Patrick Page is most fitting as the noble, demented king whose decision to divide his kingdom among his three daughters starts the long spiral of mayhem and murders, as he himself descends into madness.

Cordelia, the proverbial nicest daughter of all time is played by Calle Fu. Her wicked (and glamorous) sisters — Rosa Gilmore as Goneril and Stephanie Jean Lane as Regan—might well have just stepped out of a popular television series.

The horrors that ensue in the kingdom parallel Lear’s own demise. We’re spared none of the pain as we witness Lear’s devoted Duke of Gloucester, played by Craig Wallace, in the most wrenching scene as his eyes are pulled out and stomped upon before us. His two sons, Edgar — acted by Matthew J. Harris and Edmund by Julian Elijah Martinez — engage in deadly games as do Lear’s daughters,

There is a wit, of course — a Fool played by Michael Milligan — who  lightens the load of bad events.

What emotions an audience will experience will vary — from the political ramifications of a demented ruler’s decision to divide up a nation, to the very personal experiences of aging which hits so close to home for so many as time inexorably advances.

“King Lear” will continue in theatrical and human history, but this stellar production will sell out shows and receive many standing ovations to come.

For our story about director Simon Godwin’s 2021 visit to our Cultural Leadership Breakfast, see here.

Now at the Klein Theatre of the Shakespeare Theatre Company through April 16, 2023. For more information go here


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