King Lear / Jones, New York Shakespeare Festival (Broadway Theatre Archive)
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Top Customer Reviews
James Earl Jones gives a performance of awesome power and ferocity -- perhaps the greatest of his career. The sophistication and subtlety of his reading may surprise audiences unfamiliar with his work prior to his ubiquitous telephone company commercials. For the rest of us, this superb performance of a great artist at the height of his powers is cause for celebration, even as it is cause for sorrow: for here, too, is a stinging reminder of the scarcity of suitable roles for actors of Mr. Jones' refinement, technical mastery and colossal intensity. Are there no authors besides Shakespeare worthy of this extraordinary actor?
Of course, no one but a churl would begrudge Mr. Jones the comfort and pleasure his commercial success apparently brings him -- long may he prosper! Then again, who but a churl could fail to grieve at the waste of an artistic life of such immensity and grandeur?
After 4 weeks, I became fully convinced that anyone that said that they read or attended Shakespeare for entertainment purposes was either a liar or severely mentally unbalanced.
Then I was shown this production, and my mind expanded.
The production was taped from a Shakespeare in the Park festival, live. There are points during the production when it becomes apparent, yes it is live. It is also vital. It lives, it breathes, it is wildly passionate and elegent and bold and gentle, often within the space of one line to another.
The cast is nothing short of astonishing. Rosalind Cash, Raul Julia, Paul Sorvino and Rene Auberjonois are stunning. These four actors, in and of themselves, make this particular performance a (what is now the hyped phrase) Must See.
What makes it a Must Own is James Earl Jones.
Mr. Jones is, IMHO, possibly the single greatest actor living today. He is also IMHO the finest voice in the industry, and has been from the time I became aware that this production existed.
His Lear is a vain man, a proud man, and a man that is falling apart before our very eyes. He is indeed King, and a king that has brought himself low. Kingship does not imply wisdom.
Any flaws in this production only remind us that Shakespeare was once performed live in the presence of those who would hoot and toss things at the actors if the audience was not happy with what they were seeing.
In a nutshell: An old king creates the worst living trust plan of all time (this was before estate planning attorneys). In a fit of fatigued grandiosity, he divests himself of his kingdom, disinherits his loyal daughter and entrusts himself to the care of his two greedy, grasping daughters. It's all downhill from there, with a "B" plot which also follows the theme of fillial vs. unfilial adult children. At the end, of course, there is a pile of bodies and a few stunned survivors.
What makes this Lear so special is the cast and the audience. It was filmed in front of a live New York audience, and so you can hear the audience laughing at the jokes and applauding a particuarly good speech. This gives the production a sense of immediacy.
In some ways, this production is sort of like watching an all-star baseball game - the players are so good, and it's a real treat to watch them. A very young and sexy Raoul Julia plays Edmund - the seductive bad guy, and you can really see how Lear's two wicked daughters would get into a cat fight over him. And as Edmund's good half-brother Edgar, Rene Auberjonois is wonderful. Edgar has to go from naif to feigned insanity to righteous warrior - quite a character arc, and Auberjonois does a fabulous job.
An unexpected favorite, though, is an actor I've never seen in anything else - Douglass Watson as the Earl of Kent. Kent is a loyal supporter of the King who risks death to follow Lear through all his trials and tribulations.Read more ›
In order of preference from my personal library:
This Joe Papp/ James Earle JOnes production is tops
then the early Peter Brooks/ Orson Welles tremendous adaptation
THen Olivier's gentler production (Olivier's best recorded Shakespeare)
THen the 1970's cardboard BBC production
THen the Ian Holms version
This James Earle Jones presentation is the best of all, despite a few technical flaws of miking and camera angle (I cringe that they have no footage of his final "Howl, howl, howl, howl; Oh! Ye be men of stone" entry- the greatest line in the play yet we see him not!)
Any other complaints here recorded - including hair style! are irrelevant and trivial. In any way this is the best production you can get of this intense play. Okay, well, Sorvino could have had a better wig and fake beard, and a stronger voice as an opera singer (which stands him in good stead during the eye-outing) but remember the actors were playing more to the enormous CEntral PArk audience than to the cameras. For this reason alone the subtlety of their presentation is especially remarkable, even if broad stage blocking is required, and minimal sets. THIS IS A LIVE PRESENTATION and makes you recall how great our world class theatre ONCE was.
Please do remember this is a live production. It is great to see Mr. Jones practicing lines while dressing during the miserable Hal Holbrook introduction. This is LIVE THEATRE, yet Mr. JOnes carries his lines tremendously. There is no memorizing lines scene by scene like for a movie. He had hundreds of lines to remember, and he makes each word TRUE and real and meaningful as no other actor does despite all sorts of grimacing. This is the younger Jones, long before becoming the voice of CNN, etc.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The best version of this play I've seen. James Earl Jones is better than I expected, and I expected a lot. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Amazon Customer
Really masterful performance of a great classic. Powerful and well-done. I was surprised by the excellence of the audio. First-rate item.Published 23 months ago by Judyphile
Outstanding. This production brought the play alive for me in a way that no other film managed to do. Read morePublished on October 10, 2013 by BmoreBard
James Earle Jones is incredible!!!!! ( i have nothing else to say except to fill this up, up, up, up!!!)Published on January 24, 2013 by feralblue
This is a fantastic stage-recording of Lear. It stays very true to the original text (as close as could be asked for from a live performance) and is entertaining to watch. Read morePublished on November 15, 2010 by Flap Jack
This is a brilliant production of "King Lear" with powerful performances by James Earl Jones as Lear, Raul Julia as Edmund and René Auberjonois as Edgar. Read morePublished on February 5, 2010 by C. Kopplin
What a stunning performance of a difficult play! The cast is stellar, committed, gifted, and electrifying. It was a live performance and the energy is high. Read morePublished on April 12, 2009 by Brad Keimach
James Earl Jones does an OUTSTANDING job as King Lear at one point even foaming at the mouth in his raving madness! Read morePublished on November 28, 2007 by M. H. Shulman
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