Cast Coalesces Around Sam Waterston in The Public Theater's King Lear

By , Columnist
For years, Sam Waterston struggled to hold New York's moral center together as District Attorney Jack McCoy in the long-running TV hit Law & Order (now canceled, but recently spun off to the UK). By contrast, come October, Waterston will preside over the most epic civilizational collapse in the Western canon when he undertakes the venerable, difficult title role in Shakepeare's King Lear.

There's more than a speck of truth to the joke that Law & Order has fed and clothed New York's actors for years. You can't open a theatrical program without seeing Dick Wolf's ubiquitous creation in the credits of most of the actors' bios. I can attest to the series' long arms myself: L&O exterior shoots have for years made a minor hell out of my life as a Manhattan car owner and street parker. (And for all that, did I ever get to see Alana de la Garza striding down my block? Not even once.)

Audiences will get to see Waterston—presumably bearded—dividing his kingdom among his three daughters, the duplicitous Regan and Goneril and the loyal but proud Cordelia, beginning Oct. 18 when the Public Theater's new production of Shakespeare's King Lear begins previews. It will be hard to shake Sir Derek Jacobi's recent performance out of my mind, but I'm game to try. Directed by James MacDonald, the new staging is scheduled to run through Nov. 20.

Along with Waterston, the cast will include Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind) as Gloucester; Arian Moayed (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on Broadway) as Edgar; Kelli O'Hara (The Light in the Piazza) as Regan, and Richard Topol (The Normal Heart, The Merchant of Venice) as Albany.

Will Sam Waterston be itchy under a Lear beard? Well, he's had practice, having delivered perhaps the best-ever screen portrayal of the 16th U.S. President in the TV movie Gore Vidal's Lincoln back in '88. He reprised that role, voice-wise, in Ken Burns's classic series The Civil War. Lincoln eventually brought that bloody civil war to an end. Now, at the Public, Waterston (as Lear) will be starting another one. Plus ça change…

By the way, here's a fun game: Look up in IMDb all the cast members listed here. See how many have appeared in Law & Order. Fun!

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Jon Sobel is a freelance writer, web editor, theater and music critic, marketing writer, and musician. His newest project is the blog Park Odyssey, where he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City - over a thousand of them.

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