‘Gilded Age’ star Patrick Page finds ‘Succession’ parallels in Shakespeare Theatre’s ‘King Lear’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'King Lear' at Shakespeare Theatre (Part 1)

The fourth and final season of the Emmy-winning drama “Succession” premieres this weekend on HBO.

If you dig family dynasty dramas, Patrick Page stars in “King Lear” at Shakespeare Theatre in D.C. through April 16.

“If you picture Stonehenge, you won’t be picturing our production,” Page told WTOP. “This is a production that is set very much in our modern moment. If you watch ‘Succession’ on HBO, imagine it looking like that. If you’re thinking of a lumbering, slow, four-hour, boring production of Shakespeare, put that out of your mind! This is a propulsive, filmic thriller that’s under 2 1/2 hours that goes by like that! People think it’s over before it’s begun.”

Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy follows King Lear, who divides his kingdom among his daughters, Cordelia, Goneril and Regan, while trusty adviser Gloucester favors his illegitimate son Edmund over his natural-born son Edgar.

“The basic plot is almost out of a fairy tale,” Page said. “There’s a king who needs to retire. He’s going to hand the running of the state over to his three children. He doesn’t have a son, so he’s going to split it up between his three daughters and their husbands. … The daughters have to say which one loves him the most. He thinks his youngest daughter will win this contest easily, but she refuses to play, refuses to flatter him, so he flies off the handle.”

This jockeying for power is extra poignant being performed in the nation’s capital.

“This is a play about power structures, about government,” Page said. “The arguments that we’re having every day in the newspapers, on Twitter, on social media, how much should government do, how little should government do, these are the questions that Shakespeare is raising in ‘King Lear.’ To do this in front of an audience filled with Congress people, senators, Supreme Court judges and lobbyists, it was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

It marks Page’s return to Shakespeare Theatre after his one-man show “All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain” in 2021. Playbill dubbed him “The Villain of Broadway,” having played villains in “Saint Joan,” “Casa Valentina,” “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “Spider-Man” and even a Tony nomination as Hades in “Hadestown.”

“The role of Hades was a wonderful role,” Page said. “In characters, I look for the place where the character is broken, I look for the hurt place, and in Hades, it’s in his relationship with his wife. He loves Persephone so dearly and this chasm has begun to open up between them and he’ll really do anything to get her back.”

He also just filmed the second seasons of HBO’s “The Gilded Age” and Apple’s “Schmigadoon!”

“‘The Gilded Age’ is now in post-production and it will air sometime later this year, we shot the whole second season and I can’t tell you much about it other than it is great,” Page said. “In ‘Schmigadoon,’ my character is Octavious Kratt. The town they find this year is not Schmigadoon, it’s the town of Schmicago and Octavious Kratt is a very important man in the town. I think you will laugh your head off.”

Until then, check out “King Lear,” which he calls the role of a lifetime.

“‘Lear’ has been a central play in my life,” Page said. “It was when I really understood the greatness of Shakespeare in a visceral way, reading the play, seeing the questions of the play: how we relate to one another, how should we organize ourselves, what kind of government should we have, who should be in charge and finally who are we? … I remember thinking, ‘This is the most extraordinary play imaginable and I could spend my life exploring it.'”

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WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'King Lear' at Shakespeare Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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