Christopher Plummer Is Shakespeare's Mad Monarch as King Lear Begins at Beaumont

News   Christopher Plummer Is Shakespeare's Mad Monarch as King Lear Begins at Beaumont Lincoln Center Theater's staging of King Lear starring Christopher Plummer in the title role gets underway Feb. 11 at the Vivan Beaumont Theatre.
Christopher Plummer in King Lear
Christopher Plummer in King Lear Photo by V. Tony Hauser

The production is the huge nonprofit's second ambitious foray in Shakespeare this season, following last fall's well-received four-hour Henry IV, with Kevin Kline, Michael Hayden, Richard Easton and Ethan Hawke.

As with that adaptation, this King Lear has been seen elsewhere before reaching New York. Director Jonathan Miller and Plummer re-create work they did for the renowned Stratford Festival in summer 2002. Some cast members from that production return to this New York production. The cast includes James Blendick, Domini Blythe, Benedict Campbell, Brent Carver, Ian Deakin, Claire Jullien (as Cordelia), Barry MacGregor, Lucy Peacock, Stephen Russell and Brian Tree, all well-known names in Canada.

Carver was Tony-nommed for playing Leo in the musical Parade at Lincoln Center Theater. He won the Tony Award for playing Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman, the musical.

The sweeping and lengthy Lear is considered one of the most difficult of Shakespeare's plays to carry off, and it's title part an assignment of tremendous difficulty—a job made all the more imposing because it must be taken on by a man of years. Historically essayed by most English actors of note, the work is seen considerably less often in America.

The tragic plot is launched by aged Lear's decision to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. Regan and Goneril display ostentatious fealty and offer fawning words. Lear's youngest, the loving and sincere Cordelia, however, refuses to flatter her father. Misunderstood, she is cast out by a raging Lear. The king's faith in the two smiling daughters is ill-placed and he soon finds himself shunted aside and abandoned. The subsequent scene in which the mad king, accompanied on a "blasted heath" only by his Fool, takes his fury out on the elements is one of the most iconic in western literature. A parallel plot in the play shows the Earl of Gloucester preferring the villianous bastard Edmund over his good-hearted son Edgar, with equally dire consequences. Lincoln Center Theater's production of King Lear will have sets by Ralph Funicello, costumes by Clare Mitchell, lighting by Robert Thomson and original music composed by Berthold Carrière. Opening is March 4. The run is being billed as a limited engagement.

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