Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The burden of high expectations....

...or, please stop adding rape to everything, Robert Falls. I just got back from King Lear at the Goodman, which was alternately quite good and quite annoying. Since this was a high profile, big-budget production of an absolutely devastating play, that means on balance I disliked it. I know this isn't fair to the poor high-profile, big-budget productions, but try as I might, I can't stop expecting them to be amazing. Especially when, you know, King Lear. I can't even read that play without having a total breakdown.

Falls has set Lear in a former communist kleptocracy, complete with track suits and too much gilt on everything. It's the kind of country that seesaws between conspicuous consumption and extended bombing raids, and the setting goes a long way towards contextualizing Lear's tacky behaviour. So, this allows for a lot of neat stuff, but also a lot of stuff that's just... not needed, or is in fact distracting, as if the play is smugly pointing out how cleverly it's been updated. Drive a car on stage? Reason not the need! And, you know, this is pretty common with Shakespeare. I'm getting to the point where the most shocking thing would be if, during their first scene together, Oswald and Goneril were NOT engaging in a sexual act. Please stop doing it during plot points, y'all.

The biggest problem, for me, was all the added rape. I find depictions of sexual violence pretty rough to sit through, and if it strikes me as gratuitous, I'll turn my anger against the artist, and not the fictional attacker. Also, why are the good guys suddenly rapists? I'm all for introducing moral ambiguity, but it can go too far, to the point where I'm perfectly happy to let you all rot in your former communist kleptocracy.

I'd like to point out though, that I'm not a strict textualist. I don't mind additions and departures as long as I love them. I won't spoil any of the good bits, but do watch out for the deaths. Cornwall's and Edmund's were super.

There were also some killer performances. Headliner Stacy Keach did beautifully as Lear, but Edmund and Regan really caught my eye. Regan had this wonderful, dead-on, stupid-girl whine of a voice, but she was still perfectly comprehensible, and in command of the language. Edmund looked like a Daily Show correspondent- not any one in particular, an amalgamation- reptilian, smug, very unsettling.

To sum up: strong reactions, often negative, expectations for this sort of thing are always going to be high. Like I said, this is Lear. I can't read the last scene without crying. But at this end of this production I was distracted, and angry. And dry-eyed. But perhaps that's what they wanted.


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