Purists believe that the only way to do Shakespeare is to be straightforward and unedited; in the case of James Macdonald’s “King Lear” at the Public, the direct delivery of the play is its downfall.
Clocking in a nearly four hours, the hefty production begs for a swift delivery and enticing visuals.
But the first act sloughs through the story’s setup, which many viewers already know. The set is quite bare and simplistic, robbing us a sense of time and place but leaving us room to appreciate the striking lighting designed by Christopher Akerland. As the play progresses, props of previous scenes are left on the stage where they fall — perhaps a commentary on how our past stays with us, or maybe we had too much time to think about it.
The greatest tragedy of the night was indeed King Lear, but for all the wrong reasons. Sam Waterston, a noted vet with the Bard’s works, diminished the role to a series of hoarse shouts stuck somewhere between proud and petulant, despite shades of rage and insanity. As middle daughter Regan, Kelli O’Hara shows greater complexity, invoking sympathy even as she grows increasingly desperate. In a minor role, Michael Crane as Oswald is devious and a pleasure to watch. Other standouts were the brothers of Gloucester: Arian Moayed as Edgar is believable as a naive lord striving to be a noble son, while Seth Gilliam as Edmund is a charming villain, strutting in self-delight. The frenetic fool (Bill Irwin) — a role often omitted — breaks up the gravitas. But were he not there, would we miss him? Those who do enjoy his escapades are left wanting when he disappears in the second act.
It’s a sad showing from a company that’s frequently renowned for its Shakespeare. We recommend that you stay home to pick an insensible, endless fight with your own family — it will be cheaper, and probably everyone won’t die at the end.