No Puppets, Please: Steven Boyer on Playing the Fool to John Lithgow's Madness in Central Park King Lear

News   No Puppets, Please: Steven Boyer on Playing the Fool to John Lithgow's Madness in Central Park King Lear Playbill.com catches up with Steven Boyer, playing the Fool to John Lithgow's King Lear in the familial tragedy playing Central Park's Delacorte Theater. 

Steven Boyer
Steven Boyer Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

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In 30 years of reporting on the theatre, I’ve heard my share of casting stories. By that of Steven Boyer — who is currently following up his success in the Off-Broadway play Hand to God by playing the Fool in King Lear at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater — may be the most dramatic.

“I saw they were doing King Lear in the park,” told the actor, “and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I would love to play to the Fool in that. Don’t know how that’s going to happen.’ Hand to God ended its run, I left the country and got married in Jamaica. Coming back, I was in a cab on the way from the airport, talking to my agent. He said, ‘We got you a wedding present when you were gone. You are going to be the Fool in King Lear.”

Hollywood couldn’t have plotted it any better.

With his wish fulfilled, Boyer had only one fear entering the rehearsal process.

“What if I show up and they’re like, ‘You’re great and everything, but we really wanted Tyrone to play the Fool. Where is he?’”

Tyrone is the ferocious Id of a sock puppet that took over Boyer’s Christian-soldier character in Robert Askins’ satiric comedy Hand to God. The play, which began life at the Ensemble Studio Theatre and then moved to MCC Theatre this past spring, won Boyer the best reviews of his career and a couple of awards to boot.

Boyer and John Lithgow in King Lear
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

“In other productions the Fool is more of a court jester character and those court jesters have little ‘mini-me’s,'” continued Boyer. Thankfully, director Dan Sullivan — who previously directed Boyer in the 2002 Broadway revival of I’m Not Rappaport — wasn’t looking for a Tyrone 2.0.

Boyer spent a lot of time with Tyrone — four years, all told, from first reading to final performance.

“I knew when I first read it that the show was amazing and like nothing else,” he recalled. “But I didn’t know if it would get to the point where enough people could see it. It’s so outrageous and so unlike what you normally see on the stage.”

King Lear’s Fool first caught his attention while at school at Juilliard.

“The thing that struck me is the Fool is incredibly angry,” explained Boyer. “And his anger seems to come out of the fact that he’s concerned for Lear’s well-being. As the madness takes hold, that anger softens to a concerned sadness. It’s awful to watch someone you love fall into darkness.”

Steven Boyer in Hand to God.
photo by Joan Marcus

“He’s the only character who’s able to tell Lear what he thinks about what’s going on without fear of retributions,” he continued. “He’s an all-licensed fool.”

Broadly speaking, the Fool and the possessed puppet-toter in Hand to God both fall into a comic-tragic category of character to which Boyer is attracted.

“When I’m in a drama, I try to look for the comedic moments, and when I’m in a comedy I try to look for the dramatic moments,” he said. “It feels more true to life. It’s never just one thing or another. I have a tendency when I’m in intense or heavy situations to lighten the mood by making jokes. It’s not something I consciously do. It’s just part of my personality and something I’ve noticed about myself.”

As far as acting opposite John Lithgow, who plays the unfortunate old king, Boyer has no complaints.

“I think he might be the nicest man in show business,” he said. “People say Tom Hanks is the nicest man in show business. I think John Lithgow and Tom Hanks should have a celebrity death match for ‘Nicest Man in Show Business.’”

Sounds like Tyrone talking.

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