One of Shakespeare’s least performed works though considered one of his most powerful and complex comes alive by the talented and devoted players of this year’s Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF). King Lear has enjoyed a reputation as being “too huge for the stage,” or “too savage,” and even declared as “impossible” to perform.
So, of course to HVSF director, Terrence O’Brien, took it on!
He writes in his director’s note, “…if we surrender to this story, the gift we receive is enormous – so enormous, in fact, that it may take time and distance to fully comprehend what we learn from our participation in this fierce and heartbreaking tale.”
And so the story begins as King Lear, based on a Celtic mythical monarch, decides to pass along three parcels of land to his three daughters. Asking for a declaration of their love, each daughter responds. Regan and Goneril profess rosy portraits of their devotion, while Cordelia, whose love goes too deep, is not able to convey it to her father’s satisfaction.
The King is outraged at Cordelia, who he acknowledges as his favorite, whose response is felt as a dagger to his heart. He casts her out of his life, while fawning over his other daughters, who we suspect have their own selfish agendas. In another part of the kingdom, Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester schemes to take over his father’s title by creating suspicion over his legitimate son and good natured fellow, Edgar. Without even a shred of hard evidence, the Earl falls for the story and Edgar has to run for his life, not to be seen until later in the play. When he is reunited with his father, who has fallen into the hands of enemies and left beaten and ill, the result is riveting and touching.
Watching these powerful performances with the barest of accompanying staging and props, it is the depth of talent of the actors that rises to the top. It’s a play that never lets up, and truly challenges the audience to think, to listen to the dialog with careful ears, and for this reviewer, occasionally taking a peek at the synopsis to follow a scene or two. Shakespeare didn’t, I believe, intend his works to be an easy assignment, but rather to be watched time after time to catch the nuances missed in an earlier viewing. Within the two hours plus performance, we witness true love and dastardly plots, madness and loyalty, forgiveness and justice.
At the conclusion, the crowd rose to their feet in deep appreciation and admiration for a job done well, a true partnership between audience and actors. We felt as if we were all in this grand story together.
Performances of note include Chaira Motley as Goneril and Eleanor Handley as Regan, and despite her lesser stage time, Jessica Frey as Cordelia made the most of her role as the daughter who could not put her love for her father into words. Father and daughter’s reconciliation at the end was heartbreaking to witness. As with all tragedies, those who concocted dastardly plans were given their due, and unfortunately, due to the foibles of human nature, some of the innocent were led to their doom.
A standing ovation to Stephen Paul Johnson who leads his King Lear from a powerful ruler to a doddering madman, all with grace and believability; it is a performance for the ages.
The accompanying players, Richard Ercole as the Earl of Gloucester, Ryan Quinn as Edmund, and Charlie Francis Murphy are no less powerful as a family broken apart by rumor and greed.
King Lear is one of three rotating productions performed under the big tent in the backyard of the Boscobel estate in Garrison, New York. Included this season are Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (adapted by Ken Ludwig). Each play offers the audience a chance to see three timeless stories in a magnificent setting. (Click on the titles to red MJ’s reviews.)
Located about 90 minutes north of Manhattan either car or rail, the Boscobel estate offers stunning views of the Hudson River, beautiful grounds and garden areas for picnicking and wandering. It’s a terrific day trip adventure, and after a relaxing day, prepared to be entertained as the HVFS takes the stage.
All photos by William Marsh
1. Jessica Frey, Stephen Paul Johnson
2. Jessica Frey, Stephen Paul Johnson
3. Wesley Mann, Stephen Paul Johnson
4. Eleanor Handley, Chiara Motley
Traveling by car
From Manhattan and New Jersey: Upper-level George Washington Bridge to Palisades Parkway north. Cross the Bear Mountain Bridge. Turn left onto Route 9D for Boscobel.
From Westchester: Taconic Parkway north to Cold Spring Exit. Follow Route 301 to intersection of Route 9D. Turn left for Boscobel Restoration.
From the North: Taconic Parkway south to Cold Spring Exit. Follow Route 301 to intersection of Route 9D. Turn left for Boscobel Restoration.
Traveling by train
Metro-North provides frequent service to Cold Spring from points south and north. Call 1-800 Metro-Info for information, or visit Metro-North online.
The Festival can easily arrange for taxi service to transport you round trip from the Cold Spring Metro North train station to Boscobel for $8. Please make reservations 48 hours in advance to secure the Festival’s special rate.
Please call the Box Office at 845-265-9575 to make reservations or for any questions about tickets and getting to the Festival.