Calme Fiore as King Lear. Photo: David Hou.
STRATFORD, Ont. — It’s one of the most horrendous scenes in dramatic literature — perhaps the most appalling Shakespeare ever wrote.
So if you know King Lear, you know you have to brace yourself for the sequence where those who have become his adversaries blind the Earl of Gloucester.
The Stratford Festival’s new production is merciless when the moment arrives. As the horror proceeds, it’s as though the participants are seized by an uncontrollable frenzy. There’s a whimpering Scott Wentworth as the wounded Gloucester who, having already lost one eye, is crawling pathetically away from his tormenters. And there’s the excellent Mike Shara, a demonically driven Duke of Cornwall, pouncing on him to complete the job. Meanwhile, looking on, we have Liisa Repo-Martell’s Regan whose fascinated revulsion seems fixed in amber.
In Antoni Cimolino’s production, the scene has an emotional intimacy that makes what’s happening all the more unsettling. These are people who have known each other in better, more settled lives. But a vicious canker has taken over their world. What unleashed its poison?
The answer, of course, is found at the very beginning of the play when Colm Feore’s aging Lear totters onto the Festival Theatre stage and proceeds to open the gates of hell with his cockeyed plan to portion his kingdom among daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Gaunt, wispy-bearded, voice sometimes quavering, his body language at times uncertain, this Lear may seem a relic, but his vanity and sense of entitlement still burn within him, even though even his aura of decisiveness soon reveals itself as an old man’s terrible foolishness.