The rain it raineth every night

Yes, that was me at BAM yesterday for the opening night of KING LEAR, starring Frank Langella. A friend scooped up last-minute tickets and invited me along. The good news: Langella is terrific. (My friend isn’t so sure, by the way; but I stand by that statement.) So are some of the other actors. Max Bennett is a standout as a particularly bitter Edmund, Chu Omambala makes Albany’s lines sound like sentences he just thought up, and Harry Melling plays the Fool without a net. The rest of the cast is close to that level, too; everyone is good. The bad news: the staging is silly. Everyone spends a lot of time just standing around. There’s little stage business, and with the exception of Langella and Bennett, no one who can draw the eye when they’re not in action. It’s a spare, abstract set, with level changes of a few inches and large vertical timbers at the back that move to suggest buildings or trees. The audience is asked to imagine the settings and that’s fine; but all of a sudden, in the big mad scene, it actually rains. All over the actors, who rampage through it getting soaked. It’s a muscular tour de force for them to act — and so well — in a deluge, but after imagining stairs, walls, furniture, and forests for two hours, I thought it was ridiculous and show-offy to dump gallons of actual water all over everything.

Disclaimer: this is not my favorite Shakespeare play. Seeing it or reading it, from the opening scene I want to slap Lear upside the head and ask what the hell he’s thinking.

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