Monday, June 17, 2013

King Lear at Boscobel

I saw King Lear this past weekend with my wife and daughter. It was a very profound experience seeing it acted. (My first time seeing the play I taught so many times!) The venue is a spectacular one to see drama at – 

Boscobel / Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival 

It’s outdoors and the sun sets during the performance; the whole scene is breathtaking no matter what the actors do. People arrive early and picnic. The evening was comfortable, balmy, relaxing. 

But, on to the play, which is not those things! The eye gouging was cringe worthy; nothing elaborate (and since it's nearly in the round they can't do much w/o the audience seeing) but good use of squibs. The death scene had me sobbing. In between there were definitely lines that don’t bear up on the stage – “Reason not the need!” came across as petulant, childish. I have no idea why Goneril was trying to placate or do something to him while he was going off on his “blast her organs of increase” rant (it made her look oddly sympathetic, which was weird and uncomfortable). “Blow winds, crack your cheeks” seemed sort of silly (as did most of the “mad Lear” lines). OTOH, Gloucester didn’t seem nearly as ridiculous as I’ve always read him as, and I think the way the parallel plots illuminate one another was more clear to me on stage than it is in print (where it appears more redundant). The scene between Lear and blinded Gloucester, with all Lear’s wisecracking about sight (which in print seems rather mean spirited) was the most tender, emotional scene prior to carrying dead Cordelia on stage. “Let’s away to prison” on the other hand, seemed rushed and fake (as they did it with Edmund standing right next to them and kind of rushing them along, which is not at all how I’d imagine it). 

So, in short - Harold Bloom is partly right (he's always partly right!) that you can't really act it on stage: the speeches are too complex and literary to hold up. But at the same time, it brings things out you haven't noticed, and affects you in a more visceral, immediate way. With tickets at only about $40 it is the best entertainment money you'll spend this year. 


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