KING LEAR by William Shakespeare, directed by Joseph Ziegler (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). To October 18. $29-$54, stu discounts, limited same-day rush. 416-866-8666.See Continuing, page 95. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
King Lear is arguably Shakespeare's most emotionally riveting play and for me his most moving. Dealing as it does with parent/child relationships and larger issues of loyalty, fate and death, the play neatly balances the microcosm and the macrocosm.
Director Joseph Ziegler 's intimate production for Soulpepper , set on a thrust stage, handles the family issues with real style, creating effective moments; the bigger themes, especially those in the second act, aren't as strongly presented.
The story's economic but rich. When Lear divests himself of his kingdom, his youngest, Cordelia, won't offer the same platitudes of love as sisters Goneril and Regan. The elder sibs get it all and Cordelia goes off to France. With power in their hands, Goneril and Regan turn on their father.
A parallel father/child story involves Gloucester, tricked by his manipulative son Edmund, a bastard in both senses of the word, into believing that his other son, Edgar, plans to betray him.
From the start, William Webster plays Lear effectively as a peevish child, used to getting his own way and prone to tantrums when he doesn't. His speeches in the second half, though, sometimes touch us, sometimes don't.
The play's strongest scenes are between Lear and his daughters, staged by Ziegler with fine touches that reach the heart of the play and the audience. Both generations convey a real anger and hurt.
When Lear curses Goneril (the fine Nancy Palk ) with sterility, he begins it with a hug that quickly swerves from tenderness. The scene in which Goneril and Regan (a hellbent, monomaniacal Brenda Robins ) cut down Lear's retinue shows their strength and his weakness, while Lear's reunion with Cordelia (the sensitive Patricia Fagan ) is genuinely tender.
There are other good performances, including Jonathan Goad 's snakelike Edmund, David Storch 's Edgar, who moves from ingenue to terrifyingly mad beggar, Kevin Bundy 's prissy, cowardly Oswald, Stewart Hughes 's salt-of-the-earth Kent and Diego Matamoros 's cynical Fool, who alternately goads and comforts the king.
But the show's second half isn't yet well shaped, its move to deeper issues not successful. Text and relationships are clearly presented, but the important resonances are only fitfully touched upon.
At this point in the run, the production doesn't build toward the script's draining, universal tragedy.