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King Lear / Jones, New York Shakespeare Festival (Broadway Theatre Archive)

4.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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(Sep 18, 2001)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The formidable James Earl Jones reprises his critically-acclaimed King Lear in this television adaptation of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival production.

Brilliant performances from an amazing cast highlight this piece of modern theater history. James Earl Jones stars as Lear in this digitally remastered recording of a live performance in the park. (If you've ever wished you could see one of Joseph Papp's legendary New York Shakespeare Festival productions, this is your chance.) The crowd reactions add a layer to the play by helping to bring the excellent production to life. The direction is vibrant, keeping both a reverence for Shakespeare's work and the importance of entertaining a crowd in mind. The astonishing supporting cast includes Rosalind Cash, Paul Sorvino, Rene Auberjonois, and Raul Julia, and a remarkable performance by Douglass Watson as Kent. --Ali Davis

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Douglass Watson, Paul Sorvino, Raul Julia, James Earl Jones, Rosalind Cash
  • Directors: Edwin Sherin
  • Writers: William Shakespeare
  • Producers: Bernard Gersten, Jac Venza, Joseph Papp, Victoria Hochberg, Virginia Kassel
  • Format: Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: September 18, 2001
  • Run Time: 175 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005NG0D
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,034 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "King Lear / Jones, New York Shakespeare Festival (Broadway Theatre Archive)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ted L. Reinert on October 2, 2001
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This live performance of The Public Theater's 1974 production of "King Lear" is refreshingly straight-forward and offers abundant proof that the play -- one of Shakespeare's very greatest -- cries out to be acted, not just read. By any standard, the acting (with a few surprising exceptions) is well above average; compared to more recent Shakespeare productions at The Public Theater, the acting is astonishingly fine.
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?
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While attending High School in Michigan, I took a 9 week course in Shakespeare. Monday through Friday, for an hour, I would sit and study the words of the man often referred to as the greatest single writer that ever used the English language. In this class, we were exposed to both audio and video productions of various plays.
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.
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Format: DVD
"Lear" is not an easy play to watch by any standard, or in any medium. Anyone who has ever wished that he or she had more money or property to leave to his or her children would do well to watch this one. Poor families get along better, believe me.

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.
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and that includes Ran.

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.
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