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Time Out Theater Review: 'King Lear'

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Three-time Tony award winner Frank Langella is currently tackling Shakespeare's "King Lear" at BAM. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.

This past fall, we had a glut of Shakespeare, both homegrown and imported, from London that raised the age-old question: Who's better at the Bard, Yanks or Brits? Our local talent fared dismally when matched against Mark Rylance and the Shakespeare's Globe troupe on Broadway. Now comes Frank Langella, 100 percent Made-in-the-USA star, as King Lear. Yes, the supporting cast is English, and the production played the UK last year, but can we just call it a draw?

Other than the transatlantic celebrity casting, there's nothing gimmicky about this Lear, and that's a relief. Angus Jackson’s meat-and-potatoes approach is solidly medieval. Robert Innes Hopkins' set may be abstract, but it's made of wood timbers and massive boards. The costumes, likewise, conjure up a time when life was nasty, brutish and short.

When characters invoke the gods, they dutifully eyeball the balcony, and the deities have blessed this ensemble, which is mostly forceful and fresh. Max Bennett's dashingly heartless Edmund tears through his lines at a bloody-minded clip, as his legitimate brother, Edgar, played by Sebastian Armesto, pulls off the nigh-impossible transformation into jabbering, mud-smeared Poor Tom. As the villainous sisters Goneril and Regan, Catherine McCormack and Lauren O'Neil give full rein to cold-blooded ambition. And Harry Melling - that's Dudley Dursley to Harry Potter fans - crafts a refreshingly young and lucid Fool.

Langella finds excellent variety and vocal dynamism in his grueling role. Lear rumbles, he sings, he bellows, and when the suddenly homeless ruler really loses it in the storm, he screams hysterically. It's harrowing stuff, just as King Lear should be.

Musical, muscular, fearsome yet tragically human, Frank Langella turns in another powerful performance. As Lear says of himself, Langella is every inch a king.

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