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Steven Pacey in King Lear at the BAM

Steven Pacey in King Lear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on January 18, 2014

Review by Brad Black

I won't offer a synopsis of the play; if you are unfamiliar with Lear, you can find a more insightful summary of the play online than any I could give. On to the review. One would normally begin with Lear himself, but as our main purpose in attending was to see Steven Pacey as Kent, we'll save the title character for later. I have seen three different versions of King Lear (Ian Holm, Ian McKellan, and Brian Blessed), though always on video, never live. As soon as I learned Steven Pacey was to appear in Lear, I thought, 'he must be Kent'. Kent is - how shall I put it - very Tarrant-like: bold, outspoken, brave, loyal, fierce, and honourable. I immediately thought Steven Pacey would be perfect for the role.

And Steven did not disappoint. He dominated his scenes with a mix of posture (so necessary for the stage), diction, timing and strong delivery. While in disguise as the exiled Kent, Steven adopted a slight west country accent, yet maintained the manner and bearing of a knight; unmistakeable to the audience as the noble Kent, even when wearing his hood up.

The play was staged on a stark set. Columns of wooden beams formed the backdrop, serving as the wooden walls of a palace or the mighty trunks of an ancient forest, depending on the scene. The stage was decorated as stepped stone that could be the finished floor of a palace, the rough stone of a dungeon cell or rocky ground, depending on the action. Back lighting through the wooden beams cast long, broken shadows across the monochrome set, setting the mood for the unfolding tragedy.

The triumvirate of villains consisted of Max Bennet as Edmund, Catherine McCormack as Goneril, and Lauren O'Neil as Regan. I was particularly impressed by Max Bennet's unflinching interpretation of the bastard Edmund. Despite my intention to keep my eyes glued on our friend Steven Pacey, Chu Omambala repeatedly caught my eye as the noble Albany. Apart from Kent, he is the closest thing to a hero in the tragedy of King Lear.

And that brings me to Lear himself, Frank Langella. I don't think I'll be chastised by my fellow Americans if I state flatly that as stage performers go, the Brits have the best overall talent, but actors like Mr Langella (a New Jersey native) admirably carry the banner for the Yanks.

My humble vocabulary cannot find the words to express my admiration of Frank Langella's Lear. Drama is about emotion, and Frank Langella brought it all; strength, pride, pathos, vulnerability, madness, courage, fear, humour, and gut-wrenching heartbreak. As stated in the opening, I've seen three different versions of Lear. I still found myself choked up at the end. The young woman sitting next to me, a theatre writer and actor from Chicago, was sobbing fiercely by the final curtain. What can I say? The best answer is perhaps the one I gave Steven Pacey when he asked what I thought of Mr Langella's performance: “I own DVDs of Sir Ian Holm and Sir Ian McKellan as Lear, and after tonight, I may never be able to watch them again.”

This conversation took place at a Starbuck's in Brooklyn, where Steven Pacey had invited us to go for a cup of coffee after the matinee performance. That's the thing about Steven, he is always there for his fans, showing his appreciation for those who have come to see him perform. This despite the fact that he had only a few hours before the evening performance. It was the fourth time we had met Steven, and the third time after a play. I began as a Tarrant fan, but after seeing how intelligent and witty he is in conversation, how kind and thoughtful he is to his fans, I have become a lifelong Steven Pacey fan.

Production photos by Johan Persson
Photo of Steven and his fans in Starbucks by Brad Black

You can read Paula's report on their Multi-National Horizon Meeting in New York here


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