Directed by Sir Jonathan Miller, KING LEAR featured Christopher Plummer in the title role (in his Vivian Beaumont Theater debut). When the director and actor initially worked on the play together at the Stratford Festival of Canada, Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times: "Dr. Miller keeps the action moving at a clip that for once does justice to the narrative strength of LEAR. And the overall clarity of the production - in diction, exposition, and dramatic logic - is remarkable. The production's greatest pleasure, however, comes from Mr. Plummer's taking you step by step through his Lear's enormous changes in temperament and insight and justifying every turn on both an intellectual and gut level. I have never seen an audience so saturated in tears at the end of KING LEAR as this one was."
Brent Carver (Leo Frank in LCT's Tony Award-winning musical PARADE) played the role of Edgar. The cast of KING LEAR included members of the Stratford company, as well as American actors. KING LEAR was designed by Clare Mitchell (costumes) and Robert Thomson (lighting), with scenic supervision by Ralph Funicello. Music for the production was composed by Berthold Carriere.
The play begins as King Lear, relinquishing his power, prepares to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. He first demands that each daughter declare her love for him, explaining that the finest land will be given to the one who professes the greatest affection. After older daughters Goneril and Regan offer flattering proclamations of their devotion, the king turns to his youngest and favorite, Cordelia, and asks, "What can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters?" "Nothing," she responds. "Nothing will come from nothing," Lear warns her. Yet Cordelia, forthright to a fault, cannot emulate the obsequious speeches given by her sisters. Lear, quickly losing his temper, disinherits her and banishes the loyal Earl of Kent who speaks in Cordelia's defense.
Meanwhile, a parallel subplot is introduced. The Earl of Gloucester is falsely persuaded by his illegitimate son, Edmund, that his brother, Edgar, is conspiring against him. Edmund's plans to usurp Edgar's title are put into motion when Gloucester becomes convinced of Edgar's purported treachery and Edgar, unable to understand his father's wrath, is forced to flee.
Lear, planning to live alternately with Goneril and Regan, soon finds himself received with contempt by both. Stunned and with nowhere to go, Lear leaves them both and wanders in the countryside accompanied only by his fool. As his sanity disintegrates, Lear rails against a raging storm and is forced to find shelter in a hovel, where he encounters the concealed Edgar, thus intersecting the play's two main plots. As Lear becomes increasingly deranged, Regan and Goneril turn against one another, setting off a deadly cycle of destruction to both the family and the kingdom.