From beard to boots, Frank Langella is every inch a king. That’s a joy and also a problem for the lucid, confident, and not particularly tragic King Lear now running at BAM. An import from the Chichester Festival (which explains why Lear’s daughters have accents far more British than his), this Lear, directed by Angus Jackson, offers a brisk trot through the text with somehow less reward than the individual scenes and performances seem to deserve.
At 76, Langella has lost little of his force. He has ample strength of both character and body and a voice so rich and meaty it should come with a side of steak sauce. You empathize with Regan (a nicely icy Lauren O’Neil) when she scolds her father, “being weak, seem so.” There are punier linebackers.
That this Lear superannuates himself when still so able to command is the inciting calamity, his misjudging of his daughters merely further folly. Langella is so powerful a presence that the decline into infirmity seems somehow stagey, his insanity a Hamlet–like put on. Despite a considered performance and some compelling line readings (like a devastatingly low “never never never”), his death doesn’t land as it should. Sure, he faints, crumples, dies — but only until curtain call.