This is not so advanced warning, but, in the grand tradition of Manhattan summers, there’s a fun and free production of King Lear in Battery Park tonight. I know how very fun and free it is, because I capped off a great 4th of July weekend by watching it, along with a gaggle of people and mosquitoes, all across the range of Battery Park.
Talk about a setting. After the opening scene inside Castle Clinton, where Lear misguidedly divides his kingdom between his evil, sycophant daughters Goneril and Reagan leaving poor sweet Cordelia out on a limb, an actor shouts “Follow them that way” and the whole crowd got up and followed them to the next scene in the grass beneath the trees. Punctuating the play like that was not only lively, but it created a great way of cutting from scene to scene without curtain, props, or lighting. With players hiding behind trees, singing as the setting sun fell on the Statue of Liberty, or sword fighting in the dusk lit by flashlights and fireflies, the setting worked beautifully, and Battery Park’s food vendors and tourists faded into the background as the play went on.
Put on by the New York Classical Theater Company, the acting was solid and the interpretation of the play traditional, perhaps a bit lighter than this deeply troubling play really is. Donald Grody’s ‘pathetic old man’ interpretation of Lear played better in his madness and despair than initially when he haughtily dismisses Cordelia. Overall, it was amazingly well done on a small budget, suggesting all you need for a good production is to give a cast of hardworking actors a little direction.