Battle of the kings: Neighboring Fort Greene theaters both stage ‘King Lear’

Battle of the kings: Neighboring Fort Greene theaters both stage ‘King Lear’
Richard Termine / Brooklyn Academy of Music

It would not be a Shakespearean tragedy without an epic battle.

Two nearby Fort Greene theaters are staging William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” this season — but at least one side insists that is where the competition ends.

“It is a happy coincidence that we are both presenting King Lear this spring, but not surprising,” said Brooklyn Academy of Music spokeswoman Sandy Sawotka. “Interestingly, these last few months have been very rich in Shakespeare in New York, including on Broadway.”

BAM’s production, which runs through Feb. 9, stars actor Frank Langella, who nabbed a Tony in 2007 for his performance as Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.” Originally performed last year at the Chichester Festival Theatre in England, director Angus Jackson’s version of the classic play is traditional in aesthetic, but with a contemporary pace, he said.

“It’s one of those that’s got that muscularity, but it’s not a stuffy production,” said Jackson. “There is something quite modern about it.”

Jackson’s rendition earned high praise during its UK run, but it will still have a fight on its hands for the title of “King of Fort Greene King Lears” this year. Just across the street at Theatre for a New Audience — where director Julie Taymor is still currently putting on her lavish rendering of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — Arin Arbus’ upcoming production, beginning March 14, will feature another dramatic heavyweight in the title role: Michael Pennington.

Langella is a relative newcomer to the Bard, But Pennington, the co-founder of the English Shakespeare Company, has played the title roles in “Macbeth,” “Coriolanus,” “Henry V,” “Richard II,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” and “Hamlet,” and has penned four books on Shakespeare and his plays.

Brooklyn should not be too surprised that the two neighboring theaters were both drawn to the play, according to one Shakespeare expert — “Lear” packs a hefty dose of salacious family drama, a topic to which many modern theatergoers can relate.

“It is a play about family, and it deals with many aspects of the human condition,” said Michelle Palmour, marketing director for New York-based educational and performance group the Shakespeare Society. “If you come from a family that is dysfunctional, I am sure there is some kind of appeal.”

“King Lear” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater [651 Fulton Street near Ashland Place in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Through Feb. 9. $25-$125.

“King Lear” at Polonsky Shakespeare Center [262 Ashland Place between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene, (212) 229–2819), www.tfana.org]. March 14–May 4. $60–$75.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.