Sunday, May 11, 2014

KING LEAR and a big frickin Unisphere

I've never been to Flushing Meadows to see the Unisphere and I have never seen a live version of KING LEAR, so when my actor pal (and Facebook friend) Brad invited me to see him in LEAR I decided to go - I finally got around to it on its closing weekend.

Getting there was easy - I just grabbed a cab and it took twenty minutes - I was dropped off right in front of the theater.

But getting home was a schlep. You can't just go outside and hail a cab at the Queens Theater, you have to walk half a mile to the 7 train. Which turned out to be OK because after today's rains it was a lovely warm night and I got to see the Unisphere in person. I've seen photos of course, but it's very different being there - its massiveness has to be experienced to be believed. To get an idea of how big it is you can click on the photo and see the tiny little people on the ground under it.

According to Wiki the Unisphere is 12 stories high, but it's so much more impressive than a 12-story building because it doesn't sit on a solid square dug-in foundation, it's a globe balancing on a doohickey - I don't know what you call the thing it balances on but it looks very precarious. And seeing it lit up at night was also very nice.

I enjoyed KING LEAR too - I didn't agree with all of the director's choices, but that's typical. The biggest choice I disagreed with was to stick the cast into modern business wear and business casual. I hate it when Shakespeare is done in modern dress. I realize it's a huge cost savings (believe me, I know from costume costs) but one of the rare times you get to see men in outrageously decorative ensembles is pre-20th c. Starting in the late 1800s men's clothing became extremely drab. Not that I dislike a well-tailored suit with contrasting vest on a man, that's very nice. But it's nothing compared to the apparel of old.

And making it modern dress led to guns being used as weapons instead of swords - although they did resort to a knife fight between Edmund and Edgar. Sword fights are always cooler looking than gun fights - certainly on stage.

I didn't see much point to the scene changes in which low gray stone walls were moved into different configurations. It didn't seem to add anything to setting the scenes.

And maybe I've been spoiled by watching so many BBC productions of Shakespeare, but not all the actors in this production seemed to be aware of what they were saying - their acting was on two levels - face acting and dialog acting, and oftentimes the dialog acting was sort of like commentary on the emotions being portrayed by the face, rather than a synergistic whole.

The real stand-out in the show, in my opinion is Brendan Marshall-Rashid, who played Edgar, and this was in part due to the fact that he really seemed to understand what he was saying, in addition to his amazing, resonant voice and his agile and subtle emotional expressivity. The other actors were all at least better-than-competent, but Marshall-Rashid is a true Shakespearean.

I can't really fault the director for leaving out the Duke of Burgundy - he's the rival of the King of France for Cordelia's hand, but he rejects Cordelia once he finds out she no longer comes with a dowry. But he's there because the play's main theme is good people vs. bad people, or what I like to call mammals vs. snakes. Burgundy is a snake, France is a mammal. And mammals are at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with snakes, best explained by Edmund's dialog about his brother Edgar, the purest example of snake vs. mammal in the play:
A credulous father! and a brother noble,  
Whose nature is so far from doing harms, 
That he suspects none: on whose foolish honesty 
My practises ride easy! I see the business. 
Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit: 
All with me's meet that I can fashion fit.
The good guys in the play except Kent are all fooled by the bad guys and for the same reason that Edgar was fooled by Edmund -  they don't suspect the snakes want to do harm because they themselves don't want to do harm. And although the bad guys all come to harm in the end, the tragedy is what happens to Lear because he rejected Cordelia for his snake-y daughters.

More on this tomorrow.