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I have always *felt* that James Earl Jones is a great actor.
Unfortunately, I've only seen him in a handful fairly unimpressive
movies, I've also known his voice-over work. However, I always had a
feeling that this actor is capable of much more than he normally has a
chance to show. I have bought the DVD of this production of King Lear
because of James Earl Jones although I was not entirely sure what to
Mr Jones' performance surpassed my bravest expectations! James Earl Jones is born for the role of King Lear! I get goosebumps when he delivers the monologues, like the one from Act II scene IV: "You think I'll weep. No, I'll not weep: I have full cause of weeping; but this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws, Or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!" I have been watching this phenomenal performance for many times now and I can't get enough! I am so grateful that this unique New York open-air performance has been taped and released on DVD. Otherwise, one of the most impressive and moving theatrical performances given by an extremely gifted but underrated actor would get lost.
Read the cast listing again... think about it... Rosalind Cash, Raul
Rene Auberjenois, Paul Sorvino... James Earl Jones as Lear... the best
in the biz, period...
I am a die hard Sir Laurence fan, and this is the version of Lear I prefer. It is alive, and angry, and funny, and violent, and dirty, and everything we are told Shakespeare CAN be and very rarely is: entertainment on a grand scale.
This was one of the great experiences of my life, seeing this
production on television, and it formed an impression that helped me
develop my love for Shakespeare. The open stage in Central Park at
night, with nature and the city looming in the background is the ideal
venue for this great play. The titanic James Earl Jones makes Lear a
force of nature, and the storm does indeed seem to be coming from
inside him. I have seen other Lears, but this is the only one that
represents the life and breadth and humor of this play with reducing it
to an existentialist parade of stereotypes. And Rene Auborjonois'
portrayal of Edgar is the quintessential performance of the role.
I also have a vivid memory of Nikki Giovanni's answer to the question of this Lear being accessible to urban audiences, "You don't know King Lear, you don't know your Mama."
Jones is good, it's true. He delivers a satisfactory performance in
Acts I and I, but he really makes the role his own when he appears, his
wits completely "turned," in Act IV Scene vi. I've seen many Lears who
can spew curses and invoke the elements. Few can really pull off "Lear
mad," and this, to me, is what makes Jones's performance special.
Goneril was decent.
Kent was decent, but Kent is an easy part.
Albany was good.
I thought Edmund was actually pretty convincing. His "astrology" in Act II Scene I was hilarious.
Edgar. Hm. I think a lot of people are wowed by actors who do a lot of jumping around and shouting. It's true that his physical acting is impressive on stage, but it's not an interpretation of the role I agree with. I live in San Francisco, and I see homeless lunatics every day. That's not how they act. They just don't have the energy for all that jumping around. They're half-present, and they mumble as much as they shout. This Edgar followed a fairly standard interpretation, but for me, I doesn't work.
Sorvino was excellent as Gloucester. He imbued the role with a touch of vulnerability that did so much. Gloucester's actions are rash and belligerent. But Sorvino makes his rashness believable, by showing his weakness and perhaps his own self doubt.
I am always disappointed with film productions of Shakespeare, because they always de-emphasize or even cut out the best lines. In this case, they chopped out the messenger's speech in IV.iii, which is simply the Bard's best stuff, and they downplayed Gloucester's beautiful lines in IV.i, where he hires Poor Tom to lead him to his death. Shakespeare had a way of "hiding" the real poetry in the play. When he chose to really use his poetic talent, he would often put the poetry in the mouth of a slave, a messenger, or some unimportant character. Sadly, these lines are frequently lost or hurried through, and that is the case with this production.
When I saw the cover, which shows Jones and a black Cordelia in bonds, I was afraid they were going to make _Lear_ into a race play, by having black actors play all the good characters and white actors play all the bad ones. Fortunately, they didn't stoop to that. There were plenty of black actors and white actors on both sides of the tragedy. It does make you wonder what the producers were going for. Cordelia is portrayed by a black actress. Goneril is definitely part black, but light-skinned, like Jones. Regan is played by a dark-complected but probably not black actress. Edmund has a darkish complexion. Presumably if the daughters were all white, it would color Lear's threat in II.iv differently:
I would divorce me from thy mother's tomb, Sepulchring an adultress.
Not an altogether excellent production. Many cast members don't seem 100% suited to their character or particularly invested. The Fool just sort of spouts his lines, which is unfortunate because his character is so integral to the play's message, Raul Julia as Edmund seems bored with his character or striving too hard for deadpan, and the daughters are just bad across the board. But James Earl Jones' Lear is an absolute revelation. It's difficult to believe this is a live performance, because he hits every dramatic note so precisely and throws himself so recklessly into the role that you can scarcely believe it when he's able to do it again in the next scene. He gets totally lost in the character and when watching this performance we forget he is the vigorous, majestic, noble James Earl Jones and totally accept him as the belligerent, feeble, arrogant King Lear.
I can never understand Shakespeare. What's he trying to say, if anything? That old age is a misfortune that ruins everyone's life? I can discern no other message in this pretentious jumble. They say the Bard is often quoted. The only thing in this play I've heard quoted is "more sinned against than sinning". Brilliant! Let's quote it again: "more sinned against than sinning"! Once more: "more sinned against than sinning". So good! Bob Hope has more quotable one-liners than the Bard, and I think Henny Youngman is wittier than Bob Hope. I will keep trying to give the Bard a chance to impress me, but this is reputed to be his greatest play.
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