Wow, they weren’t kidding when they put an “adult subject matter” warning on the tickets for this show. Of course, “Lear” is bound to include some violence that might disturb more sensitive types (eyeball plucking, anyone?), but this production goes far beyond the typical. Among other things, be prepared for some… Wait, I don’t want to spoil this for anyone who wants to be experience the shock with fresh eyes. Let’s just say there’s some simulated sex onstage of a type that you wouldn’t normally expect to see at a ritzy downtown Chicago theater. Not to mention those eyeballs being pulled out, the typical gun shots and stabbings and stranglings… And nudity. Oh, yeah, Stacy Keach gets naked onstage. For a few seconds, at least.
When I intereviewed director Robert Falls, he said he was using sets and costumes that evoke the recent history of Yugoslavia, though he didn’t like summing up the play that simply. He went beyond what I expected, with a fullpblown modernization of the play’s look, complete with some hip-hop references, Balkan music and a bit of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” The production opens with a view of some urinals and ends with a massive amount of debris, including wrecked cars, strewn across the stage.
I’m no Shakespeare scholar, so I always feel a little inadequate to the task of critiquing Shakespeare productions, but I can say I enjoyed this immensely. Keach was great as Lear, especially when he literally goes barking mad.
The inventive staging might bother some people – it certainly does distract you at times from the Bard’s words – but it was fascinating to see how Falls constantly came up with new and interesting ways of presenting the oft-told story.