KPBS AIRDATE: July 14, 1993
King Lear visits Jurassic Park. Well, not really, but when you walk into the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park, what you see is this stark, sheer-rock wall fronted by a huge oval boulder that looks like an enormous dinosaur egg. It never hatches, but it rotates around on the turntable stage to no great effect, except to suggest the play’s frequently changing locales, the names of which are already projected on the rear wall.
There’s no symbolism in this igneous ovum. “King Lear” is far from a dinosaur. It’s as fresh and daunting, bleak and brilliant as ever. Under Jack O’Brien’s loving hand, the play is given a searing spin, with Hal Holbrook at the helm. Mr. Holbrook has said that he had to grow old enough to be fool enough to attempt this Everest of a role. And doesn’t that perfectly parallel the play, which the King’s Fool sort of sums up in one line: “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”
The elders in this production are definitely possessed of the most theatrical wisdom and clarity onstage, even if their characters aren’t. Outstanding are Holbrook’s blustery Lear and Richard Easton’s aching Gloucester. The young men, Robert Sean Leonard and Jonathan Walker as Gloucester’s sons Edgar and Edmund, are less convincing. But Jennifer Van Dyck is a regal, though distant, Cordelia, and two Globe favorites — Katherine Mc Grath and Kandis Chappell — are seethingly beastly as the monstrous older daughters of the King, Goneril and Regan. Richard Anton is an endearing Earl of Kent, loyal devotee of the King. Patricia Conolly is a sprightly and sad Fool, though her moves could be more varied and her lines more musical.
But there’s a wonderful rhythm to the piece, and a decidedly symmetrical structure. Two old fathers play fool to their children. Nasty offspring get their just desserts. Lessons are learned, but too late. Overall, the production, done in browns and greys, is quite beautiful. The lighting and sound are highly evocative, and the storm is downright frightening. Through it all, Holbrook peaks and ebbs, now railing against himself, the gods or the elements, sometimes more angry than mad, and in his final scene, so heartbreaking that we’re moved to tears. It’s a “Lear” to be seen. And even one to be remembered.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.