Recently I went to see friends perform in Syracuse Shakespeare Festival’s production of King Lear. Like so much in art today, this ambitious project was put on with the scarcest of resources. Many of the cast members had only community theatre backgrounds. Still, I enjoyed this more than any Shakespeare production I had seen in a long time.
It took me back to my first reading of Lear, when I recognized it as Shakespeare’s greatest play. Here, in the supposed madness of Edgar, and the real madness of Lear, is the absurd game playing that anticipates Waiting for Godot. The mock trial anticipates the antics used in The Madwoman of Chaillot. Here also is one of the most heartbreaking endings in all of drama. And here is profound search into the nature of power and human existence. Shakespeare is an inspired mixture of the practical theatre person and experimental artist.
I realize that many people worship Shakespeare without understanding him. But it seems that his plays should be done in the States much more often. As difficult as he is, he is also rewarding. In the nineteenth century, famous American actors did Shakespeare in New York as a matter of course. He should again be a frequent presence both on and off Broadway. Shakespeare in the Park is not enough.
Shakespeare represents the peak of dramatic achievement. The frequent presentation of his work would create overall higher standards of acting, directing and writing.