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A CurtainUp Review
Those who saw the company's double-bill last season on Broadway, Twelfth Night and King Richard III, will recall the incomparable Mark Rylance in the lead roles and regret that this doesn't deliver the same caliber of acting. Led by Joseph Marcell, and supported by a seven-member ensemble, this presentation is notable for a very different reason: it launches a partnership between Shakespeare's Globe and the NYU Skirball Center that promises to bring more Shakespearean classics to New York in the future.
' This production does set itself apart from the five Lears I've seen this year by its clear emphasis on the ensemble. Even before the play proper begins, one can watch the cast as they gradually transition into their roles on stage, chat with audience members in the front row, or stroll down the aisles to create a more intimate atmosphere in the theater. By the time the actual performance begins, one feels that the fourth wall has been cleanly broken through.
This Lear is the epitome of transparency. All the houselights are up during the performance to simulate Shakespeare's original Globe Theater, and its present–day replica, in London. Jonathan Fensom's set is a latter-day version of the Elizabethan booth stage design, which was popular in Shakespeare's day for touring productions. With its plain wooden two-level structure, the set has a makeshift air but very authentic feel. Composer Alex Silverman and choreographer Georgina Lamb creat some original music and dance sequences that add a country flavor.
Marcell is competent as the titular character but doesn't project the full stature and emotional range to pull off this Herculean role. Perhaps his performances in the UK and Europe have made him too settled into his part.
The supporting ensemble members are likewise able (Gwendolen Chatfield, Bethan Cullinane, Alex Mugnaioni, Bill Nash, Daniel Pirrie, Shanaya Rafaat, and John Stahl) but don't add anything really new to their individual parts. A scene where Daniel Pirrie's Edmund must morph into the servant Oswald and then revert himself back to his former character in a beat conspicuously fails to sustain Lear's tragic tone and undercuts the profound evil within the character Edmund and the psychological complexities of the play at large.
What does succeed is Shakespeare's poetry. In spite of this production's overly comic touches, the stunning language still surfaces. In short, Lear is pretty much an indestructible warhorse on stage.