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At the Brattle Theater

By Maxwell E. Foster jr.

A. C. Bradley said that "King Lear" was too huge for the stage. He would presumably have applied this dictum to the stage of the Brattle Theatre Company. Yet that group, with the invaluable assistance of William Devlin, has managed to confine this great play within the limits of its stage. It has achieved that rarely attempted, even more rarely successful, feat a good production of Lear.

The special quality of "King Lear" which makes it so difficult to stage, is its summoning up of the elemental powers of Nature, and it is King Lear himself-sometimes sane, sometimes mad like his Foot and Tom O' Bedlam, sometimes an old man, sometimes a king above men-who is most closely connected with Nature. Therefore, if the play is to mean anything, it must have a Lear who can speak with Nature, pluck the infinite out of the false ceiling of the Brattle Theatre. William Devlin is this man.

His "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow" raised the petty rumblings of the sheet-metal-and- hammer boys behind stage to the stature of an expression of Nature; his "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, and then no breath at all? over the corpse of Cordelia was pure pathos. In portraying the fall of Lear from king to disillusioned father, to madman, to dying, bereaved old man, Devlin combines the grandeur of the king and the weakness of the old man. He binds the magnificent curse of his miscreant daughter Generil ("Into her womb convey sterility"), and the moving vision of life in prison with Cordelia ("So we'll live and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies") into a believable picture of King Lear. He does full justice to a superhuman part.

By contrast, the usually successful actors of the Brattle group seemed almost high-schoolish. Only Jerry Kilty, in the curious role of the Fool, and Thayer David, in the part of the feeble old Earl of Gloucester, the subplot equivalent of Lear, make really individual contributions. Peter Temple is sturdy and even humorous in the essentially mechanical role of Kent Jan Farrand and Joan Croyden are highly successful in differentiating the wicked daughters, Regan and Goneril, but at the expense of an over-feline Regan by Miss Farrand.

The most direct consequence of Devlin's brilliant performance is the shadowing effect it has on the part of Edmund, who is placed dramatically at the head of the opposition to Lear. Albert Marre was too listlessly evil to stand out sharply from the hard wickedness of Generil and Regan, not to speak of maintaining himself against Lear, Robert Fletcher, as Edgar and "Tom O' Bedlam, Slightly undermined a fine performance by a tendency to a forensic delivery not compatible with the honest simplicity of the part.

The collective weakness of the supporting east was obvious in the final act, which contains the longest and most important section of the play from which Lear is absent. The main purpose of the act in the build up a feeling that there has been enough suffering, so that the later hanging of Cordelia and the expiration of Lear will have a more powerful tragic effect. The actors fail to build up this feeling of satiety, so that Lear's entrance, bearing Cordelia, does not have the powerful impact is should have, until Devlin rebuilds the structure himself.

The staging was effective, but the large number of independent sets, apparently necessary to handle the different locales, made for a lot of infuriating noise. The attempt to cover the frequent scene-shifting by playing some of the transition scenes in from of the curtain was a bad mistake. I think it was a section of castle wall the obscured Lear's great line: "O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven!" A vast seething backdrop painted in red did extremely well by the supernatural element in "Lear."

Finally, the costuming was irritating Lear's robes were well chosen to decline in impressiveness with him, and the women's dresses were appropriate, but most of the men seemed to be wearing leather fish-scales of aprons, and many bore strange headgear. The royal crowns and coronets seemed more than usually cardboard, and the foot soldiers stood out above all others in the flaunting of some extraordinary creations that most resembled the kepis of the Foreign Legion.

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