There are some evenings where the stars align just so and you get to see that proverbial performance of a lifetime. Last night I witnessed on stage such an act. King Lear is playing at BAM's Harvey Theater with Ian McKellen as Lear. If you live in the city, you probably know this already because it is a short run with a big name and tickets to the UN's General Assembly were easier to score. You can see a snippet of the play here. Thanks to our friends, H&S, M and I were able to go. Many, many, many thanks.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music is only a twenty minute walk from our apartment. We stepped off the noisily trafficked Flatbush and into the narrow tree-lined streets that tuck in BAM's spotlit buildings. Other theatergoers started to fill the sidewalks. As we approached you could sense the electricity in the air.
I've never had such great seats to a performance, and the stage was only eight rows away. We first saw Vanessa Redgrave in the theater lobby, and once we were seated we looked up and saw Vanessa Redgrave and Lynn Redgrave help Lauren Bacall walk gingerly down the stairs. They ended up a few rows ahead of us, and I can now say I was with the Redgrave sisters and Lauren Bacall for a night at the theater.
And what theater it was. Drop dead gorgeous ball gowns, fantastic lighting and staging (though I didn't quite get why it looked so wooden barn-like), a rainstorm on the stage, and the jarring violent noise of gunshots, murder and mayhem. And all because brazenly greedy offspring twisted money and love and fought over their Kingless Kingdom (there's Buffet's critique of dynastic wealth live and on stage right there). The entertainment factor alone made the three and a half hour play fly by for this Shakepearean neophyte. I thought William Gaunt's Duke of Gloucester was breathtaking. In fact, I was pretty impressed with almost all of the acting. And the star of the show delivered. McKellen's Lear is pompous, funny, humiliatingly human, and a stark raving mad old man in the descent of his own folly. The trap is money. And while language, costume, and era have progressed well beyond the play's moment in history, the humanity of us all has not changed. And that, in and of itself, is our own tragedy.
- photo by Manual Harlan