The Stratford Festival in Ontario confirmed July 30 that Christopher Plummer, 71, an early company member in the 1950s, will play King Lear in the 2002 season.
Film and stage director Jonathan Miller will stage the Shakespeare tragedy as part of the festival's 50th anniversary season. It will be the first time Plummer — a film and stage actor perhaps most widely known for the film, "The Sound of Music" — tackles the role of the mad king.
A homegrown star in the early days of the prestigious Stratford Festival in southwestern Ontario, Toronto native Plummer will return as a septuagenarian to play King Lear, the monarch who splits his kingdom between his two venal daughters and wrongly punishes a loving third.
Miller plans to present King Lear "as a 17th-century play about the relationship between monarchy and paternity," according to a statement. "I think this is a play about the fragility of civilization," Miller said, adding that he's "very much influenced by the English 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes' 'Leviathan.'"
"Christopher is one of Stratford's most illustrious alumni, one of its earliest stars, and currently a board member," artistic director Richard Monette said in a statement. "I'm thrilled that he's returning to do one of Shakespeare's master works." King Lear will run from August to November at the 1,800-seat Festival Theatre.
Previously at Stratford, in the 1950s, Plummer appeared in Henry V (in 1956, the last year of the festival tent), Hamlet (the first staging the current, permanent Festival Theatre), Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Cyrano de Bergerac and Twelfth Night, into the early 1960s. In 1967, he starred with Zoe Caldwell in Antony and Cleopatra. After a long absence, he returned for the 1996 Stratford tryout of the Livent production of Barrymore, which would earn him the Tony Award when it went to Broadway.
Plummer has made more than 80 motion pictures, and was a leading member of Great Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre.
"I have to be there for the 50th year," Plummer said in a statement. "Stratford was a part of my professional youth and has remained, to this day, a part of my heart."
Miller began his career as a doctor of medicine and is recognized for his early theatrical work as a member of the satirical revue, Beyond the Fringe, with Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Peter Cook. He's renowned for his direction of Shakespearean plays, operas and other classics. Among his stagings: The Merchant of Venice with Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright, The Taming of the Shrew for the Royal Shakespeare Company and The Tempest with Max von Sydow. Miller was artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre in London, England (1988-90) and directed 11 plays for the BBC's prestigious Shakespeare series (1980-82). His direction of King Lear at the Stratford Festival of Canada marks his Canadian debut.
Miller and Plummer performed together 30 years ago in the National Theatre production of Danton's Death. Plummer recently appeared in a live CBS-TV presentation of "On Golden Pond" with Julie Andrews.
— By Kenneth Jones