While the skies above Central Park threatened thunder and lightning, the true storm raged onstage. Although the rain never fell, the theatrical tempest reached hurricane proportions. King Lear cursed his two older daughters, banished his loyal courtier and cast out his dearest child.
The second of the free Shakespeare in the Park summer productions at the Delacourt Theatre, King Lear is one of the most moving and insightful of the Shakespeare’s works. It deals with parent-child relationships as well as the conflicts between young and old. Their fathers cast out the children who display filial love and loyalty, while the dissembling villains gain power and possessions. Edmund, the bastard son of Earl of Gloucester, maneuvers to usurp his father’s lands and title, while Lear’s two older daughters strip him of his dignity and retinue, even shutting him out in the stormy night.
Lear sets his own downfall in motion when he decides to give his three daughters their shares of his kingdom while he’s still alive. All they need to do is tell him how much they love him. The two older ones, Goneril (Annette Bening) and Regan (Jessica Hecht) successfully flatter him to gain his approval and their portion, but the youngest, his favorite, Cordelia (Jessica Collins) answers honestly but without flattery. Irate, he casts her out. Lear begins as a tropical storm but his fury builds on itself, growing in intensity until it’s almost a category 5 hurricane. Lear angers quickly but refuses to rethink any decision. When his loyal advisor Kent (Jay O. Sanders) tells him he’s behaved foolishly, he turns on Kent as well. All of which leads to Lear’s madness and eventual death. As with most Shakespearean tragedies, most of the main characters die, even the innocent ones.