Review: King Lear

Mike Arch, Staff writer

Director Robert Falls opens the 20th-anniversary season at the Goodman Theater with William Shakespeare’s King Lear. The production has been extended to run through October 22. Stacy Keach (Lear) leads a cast of 29 members that include such well-known Chicago Actors Steve Pickering (Kent), Kevin Gudahl (Albany), and Howard Witt (Fool).

The production had a large budget, and every penny was used. For the Shakespeare purest, this is a downer. It culminated in elaborate sets throughout the first act. Having a Mercedes driven on the stage was entirely unnecessary.

Much was done to add humor to this tragedy beyond what Shakespeare had intended. It is not uncommon in Shakespeare’s work to find many witticisms that come out when performed properly. The cast executed those perfectly. This production, however, added slapstick. With goofy dances and overdone prop use, the added comedy begins to take away from the moving story plot of King Lear. With the elaborate sets and the added humor, the production is very Hollywood.

The second half of the play saw comedy kept to a minimum. At that point you know you’re seeing Shakespeare. The costumes and set are very modern, which helps to bring the story of King Lear to today’s audience. A word of caution: the script does call for nudity, and they don’t skimp on that in this production. Some of the fight scenes were poorly choreographed, with characters grabbing body parts in pain that never even seemed to be close to getting hit. Many of the sound effects where used too much and played too loud that it was difficult to hear the actors at times.

“You don’t choose to direct King Lear; it chooses you,” Falls states in the playbill. If King Lear has chosen the cast, it could not have done a better job. They were amazing, executing every moment with superb precision, with a stand-out performance by Witt as the Fool, setting himself apart from the rest of the cast. Witt captivated the imagination with his performance, keeping one guessing if the character is real or a figment of Lear’s imagination.

Stacy Keach gave a stunning performance as Lear. Keach, known best as the warden in the Fox program Prison Break, told the Independent that “my father was my inspiration for Lear.” He sought to bring his father’s energy to the character. He also said he is looking to return to Prison Break after the production with the Goodman.

The cast alone is worth the price of the show, bringing to life a classic Shakespeare tragedy into today. Tickets are available for any prices ranging $20 to $75 Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 312.443.3800.