Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A 'King Lear' for the ages

By Meredith Deliso

He’s been Hamlet in “Hamlet,” Richard II in “Richard II,” Julius Caesar in “Julius Caesar,” and Macbeth in “Macbeth.” And now, Derek Jacobi is taking on the obvious role in “King Lear.”

The Tony Award-winning actor stars in Donmar Warehouse’s production of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, running at the Brooklyn Academy of Music starting this Thursday.

“It’s an overwhelmingly successful interpretation of Shakespeare’s play,” said Joseph Melillo, the executive director of BAM. “What’s so powerful is Derek Jacobi’s performance. The kind of strength that he has vocally and emotionally, you are overwhelmed by his acting.”

After decades on stage, Jacobi, a master of Shakespeare’s verse, is up to the task of portraying the aging monarch, who, after offering to divide up his land among his three daughters based on who loves him the most, is soon driven mad by the move.

It’s a meaty, contradictory role that’s attracted such diverse actors as Laurence Olivier (twice), Orson Welles, James Earl Jones, Kevin Kline and Ian McKellen, who starred four years ago in a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company that ran at BAM under the direction of Trevor Nunn.

Here, Michael Grandage directs what promises to be an insightful, moving investigation into of one of Shakespeare’s most revered -— and one of his most popular — tragedies.

“The biggest asset is that Michael clarifies the storytelling,” said Melillo. “I don’t think there’s any ambiguity in his production. You understand people’s motivations and actions.”

Melillo isn’t the only one excited about the company coming to Brooklyn.

“To bring our piece to Brooklyn is so cool,” said company member Pippa Bennett-Warner, who plays Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter. “Brooklyn is a wicked place. And the [BAM] space is absolutely beautiful. I’m excited about everything.”

“King Lear” at the BAM Harvey Theater [651 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636-4100], April 28-June 5. Tickets $25-$80. For info, visit


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