When we reached actor Bill Irwin a few weeks ago, he was knee-deep in rehearsals for “King Lear,” which begins previews tomorrow at The Public. When we spoke to Irwin — who plays The Fool opposite Sam Waterston’s King?Lear — he didn’t mince words about how it was going: “It’s either the greatest joy, or at other moments, you kind of wonder what you’re doing there,” he said.
See? Even Tony-nominated actors can admit Shakespeare is a tough slog. “King Lear” may be one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to produce. And Irwin’s character is especially nuanced.
“The Fool is a role that was left out of the play for 200 or 300 years,”?he explains. “Scholars said, ‘Oh, Shakespeare made a mistake [in writing this role].’ So they left it out. Now, of course, we feel it’s an integral part of the whole tapestry. He’s a character who feels like he is there for color and comic relief, but the deeper you go you realize he is part of the psyche of all of the characters.”
Irwin had no doubt the cast and crew would pull through — this is The Public, after all; no one in the city does Shakespeare better. “It is such a joy to watch everyone tackle their roles. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.
In watching Waterston
The privilege of working with Sam Waterston is not lost on Irwin. “What I like about this role is looking for a way to connect with Sam the actor and Lear the role,” he said. “There is a connection our characters have to the [literature] and psychology of the play.”