John Lithgow's turn as King Lear in New York has failed to conquer the critics.

The new production of the William Shakespeare tragedy opened at the outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Manhattan's Central Park on Tuesday night (05Aug14) with Lithgow in the title role opposite Annette Bening, marking her first New York stage part in more than two decades.

Theatre reviewers mostly praised Lithgow's portrayal of the king's decent into madness, but many were scathing about the production.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times calls the play "stiff-jointed" and "emotionally numb", while the New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli gives it just two stars out of a possible five, adding, "The letdown matches the anticipation."

Frank Schek of The Hollywood Reporter writes, "(The production is) devoid of interpretive insight and lacking emotional immediacy... Lithgow here never plumbs the depth of the tortured Lear, staying stubbornly on the surface... (It is a) dutiful but uninspired production, which never scales the heights of Shakespeare's timeless tragedy."

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal was particularly scathing about the supporting cast, writing, "Annette Bening... is cautious, even bland, as Goneril, while Jessica Hecht's Regan is fussy and insipid. I wouldn't be surprised if Ms. Bening finds her sea legs - she is, after all, a superlative film actress with classical stage training - but Ms. Hecht is miscast, pure and simple."

Variety's Gordon Cox concurs, writing, "There's no bite... to Annette Bening's matronly Goneril and even less poison in Jessica Hecht's oddly giddy Regan."

A number of reviewers also criticised the staging of the show, complaining that the view of Central Park which usually enhances productions at the Delacorte Theatre was cut off by a brick wall in the set.