No one’s idea of typical summer fare and rarely mounted during the Public Theater’s season in Central Park, Shakespeare’s Matterhorn of a tragedy King Lear arrives at the Delacorte with John Lithgow in the title role and Annette Bening as Goneril, the eldest and most duplicitous of the addled monarch’s three daughters. Bard and Delacorte regular Daniel Sullivan (among his other Free Shakespeare credits is The Merchant Of Venice, which starred Al Pacino and moved to Broadway) directs this lucid but unengaging production.
An imposing, if never exactly commanding, Lear, Lithgow follows very recent outings in the role by Frank Langella at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Sam Waterston at the Public and Michael Pennington at Theatre For A New Audience. Of the four, Lithgow — twice a Tony winner and certainly a stage devotee notwithstanding his fame as Dr. Dick Solomon in the NBC sitcom Third Rock From The Sun — delivers the most intellectualized performance, meting out changes in the king from needy egomaniac to blithering exile and, finally, ruined, haunted shell, like so many morsels in a King Lear repast. It’s interesting, I suppose — yet as bloodless as that word implies. Lacking a central performance capable of shattering our hearts (something I know can be done only because I’ve actually seen it happen), King Lear tends to stall out in the play’s longueurs and weird diversionary subplots. (more…)