King Lear in Brooklyn

Michael Pennington
Oberon Books

King Lear in Brooklyn

There are about half a dozen good reasons to buy and delight in this charming tome, which covers a production of King Lear at Brooklyn’s Theatre for a New Audience aka TFANA.

For actors and directors, it provides a detailed analysis of the thoughts of this particular King Lear and everyone involved in the production, on a week by week basis through rehearsals to opening and beyond.

The general reader will also possibly learn more about the arts of acting, directing and working in the design departments of an American theatre than ever before.

The depiction of rivalry between two King Lears playing across a highway from each other (Frank Langella was filling the role at BAM) may be a little bit of a damp squib but it does demonstrate that against British public perception, Shakespeare does still have a place on the far side of the Atlantic.

For lovers of Michael Pennington, there is a partial biography and memoir, along with the actor/author’s philosophical opinions about so much more than his own life.

Outside the theatre, readers can enjoy a portrayal of modern day New York along with a brief essay on high-tech fraud as it affects the star on the street.

To add variety to the mix, one chapter analyses each of Lear’s eleven scenes in detail, while there is also a friendly interview between the author and his old friend Sir Ian McKellen.

The real core of King Lear in Brooklyn is a multi-layered portrait of one of Shakespeare’s most memorable and significant characters, along with the experience of those involved in putting him onto a stage in a brand new building that any visitor to New York is strongly advised to go and see.

By the end, readers will have a deep understanding of a veteran actor’s life while playing one of the greatest roles in theatre and at the same time enjoy the relationships that he builds with American colleagues and particularly the theatre’s founding father Jeffrey Horowitz and the play’s adventurous young director Arin Arbus.

This is a very well-written and balanced book that analyses one of Shakespeare’s major plays from numerous perspectives, while proving to be a good read at the same time.

While each theatrical performance and production is unique, it just so happens that Michael Pennington is currently touring a different version of King Lear around the United Kingdom, which could at least give Brits a flavour of what went on in Brooklyn.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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