On the night before Glenda Jackson opened in “King Lear” on Broadway, no less an eminence than Donald Sutherland came to see her daring performance. Glenda won the Tony Award for Best Actress just last year in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.” Can she do it again. a second year in a row? Maybe Donald was thinking that. (He was sort of buried in his seat, under a hat, straining not to be recognized. I guess he doesn’t get out of Hollywood a lot.)
This year, Glenda could be up against some more formidable competition: Janet McTeer, Elaine May, Laurie Metcalf, Keri Russell, Heidi Schreck, Annette Bening, Audra McDonald. Not easy, especially when you’ve just won.
Composer Philip Glass sat through the first act — which is two hours long– last night. He’s written some wonderful music for “King Lear,” directed by Sam Gold, and featuring blockbuster performances by Ruth Wilson, Jane Houdyshell. Pedro Pascal, and Sean Carvajal. Elizabeth Marvel is also featured but her understudy filled in for her last night. This was a shame. Goneril, who should be Lear’s mighty foe, was unconvincing.
I paid $90 a pop to sit in the last row of the Cort Theater orchestra and it was well worth it. The overall production– three-and-half-hours, mind you– is outstanding. The strength is in the ensemble since Jackson (who is 82, almost 83) is a little frail and slight. I’m impressed that she can do two shows a day on matinee days. “Lear” is grueling. But she has some moments when she is truly a lion in winter, and roars mightily.
Wilson and Houdyshell, to me, were the real stars. Wilson is cast as the Fool and as Cordelia, which is unusual. But since Cordelia basically disappears for most of the play, Wilson had to be given something else to do. She will easily gain a Tony nomination in this role. She just shines. Houdyshell, beloved on Broadway, is a sensational and unexpected Duke of Gloucester. She surprises everyone.
All the men are good, but this production is designed for the women. John Douglas Thompson is outstanding as Duke of Kent, and Dion Johnstone has full command of the stage as the Duke of Albany.
“King Lear” will basically be in competition with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “All My Sons,” “Frankie and Johnnie,” and “Burn This” for Best Revival of a Play. “Mockingbird” will win simply because of the money behind it. But I’m looking forward to seeing the others, as well.
PS You know, we treasure Glenda Jackson and so appreciate her back to back bravura Broadway comebacks. But rent any of her mid-70s movies like “A Touch of Class” and “Women in Love” and just swoon. She has quite a CV. And two –yes, two, Oscars!