Woody Allen has a brilliant short story called The Kugelmass Episode, in which a man gets into the novel Emma Bovary and becomes a part of the story. The Smith Street Stage play Lear: That Old Man I Used to Know is very similar in concept: a thirteen-year-old girl is reading Shakespeare’s King Lear in an attic when suddenly the characters appear and she joins in and becomes one of the characters in the story.
I read King Lear in high school many many years ago and to be perfectly honest I haven’t re-read it since. Yet as soon as the play began everything started coming back to me and Shakespeare’s immortal dialogue and timeless story immediately came back, as if it never left me!
The story – for anyone who needs a quick refresher – is about a king who divides his kingdom among his three daughters but when his youngest daughter refuses to flatter him his disowns her and banishes her from the kingdom. He learns that his older daughters don’t love him as he thought. Meanwhile, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester deceives his father into thinking that his real son is plotting against him. Like Lear, Gloucester also learns the truth in the end.
I liked the clever idea of having the young girl be a part of the play. To show that she is viewing the play from a girls’ perspective, Beth Ann Hopkins, who adapted and directed this version, has made some alterations to the text: she included throughout the dialogue writings from famous works by Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Dylan Thomas. As an English major I was, of course, delighted but you don’t need to have extensive knowledge of literature to get the references, as most are famous quotes from very famous works. In a sense, the play is a “love letter” to English Literature.
As director, Hopkins was also very inventive and made good use of a seemingly simple set design and cleverly-used props to create unforgettable visuals. The cast is led by Louis Butelli as the tragic Lear who was phenomenal. Other notable performances were Sarah Dacey, Charles and Venessa Butler who played men’s roles (Gloucester and Cornwall, respectively) and Noelle Franco, who stole the show with her charming rendition of the fool (also a male character coincidentally).
The performance is two and a half hours, plus two short intermissions. I would recommend it for kids 13 and older.
When: Through September 22, 2019
Where: A.R.T./New York Theaters
Gural Theatre (3rd floor)
502 W. 53rd St. (btwn 10th & 11th Ave.)
Price: $15-$30 per person
To purchase tickets click here.
Photos by Evan Felts
I was not compensated for this post. I received complimentary tickets.
Senior Reviewer Maytal Wichman is a freelance writer and has written for several blogs, including The Huffington Post. She has been living in the New York City area for nineteen years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature as well as a Law Degree. Maytal is a stay-at-home mom to three kids, ages 12, 10 and 6.