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A CurtainUp Review
King Lear

Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!/You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout/ Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!/ You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,/Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,/ Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,/Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world,/Crack nature's moulds, all germens spill at once/ That make ingrateful man!
— Lear
Frank Langella
Frank Langella as Lear (Photo: Johan Persson)
Even though you might have oohed and ahhed over Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Derek Jacobi's respective Lears at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater in recent years, there's good reason for you to have another rendezvous with Shakespeare's tragic classic. The legendary Frank Langella is taking on the iconic role. And the three-time Tony-Award winning actor and film star brings an ideal blending of hubris and heart to this titanic part.

This production comes to BAM following its month-long run at the Chichester Festival. Lear opened to critical raves there, which immediately sent sizable ripples across the Atlantic, creating lots of buzz in the New York theater community and beyond

Well, get ready for more buzz! Langella has landed on his theatrical feet as he reprises his Lear at BAM. He and the entire ensemble have seasoned well. Langella has not only delivered one of his most deeply-felt performances as the mad king. He owns the stage whenever he is in our view.

Though the 76 year-old Langella has enjoyed phenomenal success on the big screen, he has continued to pursue a stage career with true zeal. He hassurfaced regularly on Broadway (Tony Awards for Seascape, Fortune's Fool, and Frost/Nixon), Off Broadwaya as well as regional, and international stages.

What makes Langella so right for playing Lear is not that he has had extensive experience with Shakespearean parts. He somehow never got round to doing big roles like Hamlet, Macbeth, or Henry V, though he did have a go at Oberon and Theseus and a few other minor parts. No matter. He comes to Lear with the right stuff: a rich baritone, machismo, and stamina.

The real test of Langella's Bardian mettle arrives during spectacular Act 3 storm scene. As John Gielgud wrote when he was struggling to get his own Lear down right for performance in 1931: "Lear has to be the storm."And that is just what Langella manages to achieve as the faux hurricane blows in and soaks him to the skin — along with the Fool, Kent, and Edgar.

There are many riveting moments during this nearly 3-hour production, but Langella is at his most riveting during the storm. His "Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!/You cataracts and hurricanoes . . " most surely conveys the vulnerability of his protagonist and his up-close confrontation with poverty and mortality.

While there is a strong showing from the ensemble, nobody surpasses the title player's magnetism on stage. Still, I would be wrong not to mention that Sebastian Armesto plays Edgar/Poor Tom with elasticity and that Max Bennett is one cunning and villainous Edmund. When it comes to doing absurd leaps over Dover's cliffs, Denis Conway has the dramatic know-how. Catherine McCormack, Lauren O'Neil, and Isabella Laughland are all well-cast as Lear's daughters Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, respectively. Steven Pacey's Kent is loyal as ever. And last, but not least, Harry Melling makes for a wise and refreshingly young Fool.

Angus Jackson intelligently directs the production. Seeing a legendary American actor do justice to this juggernaut, is well worth a trip to Brooklyn.

King Lear
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Angus Jackson
Cast: Frank Langella (Lear), Sebastian Armesto (Edgar), Max Bennett (Edmund), Denis Conway (Gloucester), Isabella Laughland (Cordelia), Catherine McCormack (Goneril), Harry Melling (the Fool), Lauren O'Neil (Regan), Steven Pacey (Kent), Rob Heaps (France/Knight/Guard), Tom Mothersdale (Oswald), Chu Omambala (Albany), Michael Sheldon (French Commander/Servant), Parth Thakerar (Servant/Herald/Messenger), Tim Treloar (Cornwall), and Alan Vicary (Doctor).
Sets: Robert Innes Hopkins
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Music: Isobel Waller-Bridge
Fight Director: Terry King
Voice Coach: Matin McKellan
American Stage Manager: R. Michael Blanco
The Harvey Theater, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 651 Fulton Street Tickets: $25-$125. 718/636-4100 or visit
From 1/07/14; opening 1//14; closing 2/09/14.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 7:30pm; matinees on Saturday @ 2pm (There will be no Saturday matinee on 1/11/14); matinees on Sunday @ 3pm.
Running time: approximately 3 hours with an intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/12/14
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