Pity the Fool. Or, rather, pity the production of King Lear where the Fool is the real standout. Alas, that’s the case with director David Farr’s undercooked Lear, one of five Royal Shakespeare Company shows running in repertory this summer at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. The Fool is played by Sophie Russell, who also makes a fine Audrey in the RSC’s As You Like It, and she brings an unexpected urgency to the role — and a boyish otherness that suits the character’s ability to speak truth to power. (It should be noted that other players in small roles also make an impression: Samantha Young is a fine Cordelia and Charles Aitken a convincing Edgar, the wronged nobleman who disguises himself as wild-eyed hermit Poor Tom.)
For no good reason, Farr’s production seems to be set in Edwardian England, judging from the WWI-era costumes and a set that resembles a burnt-out industrial-age factory awaiting reclamation. But the play’s the thing, and this fails to capture the consciousness of the king at its center. Farr also stumbles in providing necessary context and foreshadowing. Sometimes, it’s as if the characters are reading the text for the first time. We see Edmund (a one-note Tunji Kasim) and Goneril (an overwrought Kelly Hunter) lock lips in Act 2 though they haven’t exchanged so much as a sidelong glance until then. Later, Regan (a nicely spirited Katy Stephens) confronts her sister Goneril’s steward, Oswald (James Tucker), and suggestively implies that he’s a little too close to his boss (”I know you are of her bosom”) — but the provocative accusation comes out of nowhere. Individual scenes play well, but there is nothing to stitch them together into a coherent and satisfying whole.
Alas, the same muddled characterization applies to Greg Hicks’ well-spoken Lear, who initially seems more like a petulant business mogul than a king in the early throes of old age and madness. He’s on more solid footing in the action-packed second act, when Lear has shed much of his reason (and his clothing) and shows only occasional flashes of lucidity. By then, the inescapable underlying power of the Bard’s great tragedy kicks in. B?
(Tickets: lincolncenterfestival.org or 212-721-6500)