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Learning ‘Lear’: A Real Run-Through, and a Sneak Peek

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By JOHN LITHGOW   JULY 14, 2014 1:37 PM | ArtsBeat/The New York Times

John Lithgow, a Tony-winning actor and writer, will be regularly blogging on ArtsBeat as he rehearses “King Lear” for Shakespeare in the Park.

All of this and a full moon, too!

 

Today, on our last day in the Martinson Hall rehearsal space, we finally did a nonstop run-through of “King Lear.” A dozen people were there who were seeing our work for the first time. These were our creative collaborators who have been working on the show’s costumes, lights, props and makeup.

It was a terrific afternoon. Doing the play from start to finish without a pause gave us a taste of its rhythm and forward momentum, and the presence of all those first-time viewers seemed to stir us actors to new heights and depths. We have a long way to go, of course, but the effusive response of our tiny audience (apparently quite genuine) made me feel pretty confident. Pretty relieved, too: today proved that I could actually perform this role without passing out.

 

But what about that full moon?

 

At 6 p.m., after the rehearsal ended, I made the usual subway trip to my Upper West Side apartment, poured a glass of wine, and served myself dinner from a slow cooker that had been roasting a chicken for me all day long. I made the third of my three daily calls to my wife in Los Angeles, telling her about the run-through and listening to the news of her Sunday afternoon. We whimsically resolved to head out for an ice cream cone to our respective ice cream shops. It was a wistful compact: it was exactly what we would have done together on a hot summer night if she’d been in town. I said good night to her, hung up the phone, and off I went.

 

As I walked home at 9 p.m. with a dripping cone in my hand, I had another whimsical thought. I decided to veer off into Central Park to see if anyone was working on our “King Lear” set at the Delacorte Theater. We were due to start tech rehearsals there on Tuesday after our day off, and I wanted to get an early peek at it.

Outside the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. © Sara Krulwich/The New York Times ©

The park was dark and quiet as I walked toward the Delacorte. I passed only a few cyclists and dog walkers. But as I approached the theater, I could see that it was bustling with activity. A crew was there all right, some 20 strong, setting lights and experimenting with projections. This, of course, was work that could only be done after dark. They would press on until 4:30 a.m., so for them their work day had only just begun.

 

I introduced myself to Zach, Stephanie, Joe, Brian and a dozen others. They were a delightful gang, youthful and high-spirited. I paused to ponder the fact that all them had been slaving away 80 blocks from us, pushing just as hard as we were to bring “Lear” to life, with just as much commitment and pride. And until that moment, I’d never met a single one of them. They were tickled to give me a quick tour of the set, and when I stood downstage center and looked out at those 1,800 empty seats, my heart swelled.

 

But what about that full moon?

 

You will note that I have kept my promise to reveal nothing about our production until we perform it. On that first visit to John Lee Beatty’s set I found it extremely beautiful, but I will say nothing to describe it. Nothing, that is, except for one element: John Lee has chosen a rough, wide-weave fabric that he has used for a vast textured wall across the back of his set. Projections can play across the surface of this wall, but depending on how it’s lit, an audience would also be able to see right through it.

 

At one point, as I looked up at that wall, the lighting crew dimmed all the stage lights. A full moon, low in the sky, suddenly appeared through John Lee’s magical fabric. Who knew that a full moon would shine that night or that it would be the biggest, brightest moon of the entire year?

 

It had an overwhelming effect on me. I thought of Joe Papp, looking up at a full moon shining above the Delacorte Theater in 1962, his first season in Central Park. I thought of a full moon overhead when I played Laertes there in 1975. I thought of last summer when I sat in the audience watching Dan Sullivan’s production of “The Comedy of Errors.” At the end of that show there was an abrupt blackout and the set was lit by nothing but a big full moon, nature’s own light cue.

 

I felt like the luckiest actor in New York as I stood on that set with my new friends on the “King Lear” lighting crew. On Tuesday we join them in earnest.

 

Reference: ArtsBeat/The New York Times By JOHN LITHGOW   JULY 14, 2014 1:37 PM

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