June 18, 2022
Darkness falls off the black walls surrounding Macbeth, in a tale of all-consuming desire for power at the Longacre Theatre. Before Macbeth unfolds, Michael Patrick Thornton congenially addresses the audience while nonchalantly wheeling around in his wheelchair.
He sets the scene and informs us Shakespeare wrote Macbeth (as well as King Lear) in 1606 while brooding during a pandemic lock-down.
Director Joh Gold burrows into Shakespeare’s thick, heavy rich soil where slugs feast on living plants but where vegetables fruit despite attacks on their roots.
In this pared-down production, actors are predominantly robed in black by Suttirat Larlarb in a spare, black space designed by Christine Jones. Off to the side, a clique of witches hunch over a mysterious brew they're cooking while listening to a podcast.
When approached by the victorious, war-weary Macbeth (Daniel Craig) and his pal Banquo (Amber Gray--traditionally the role is played by a male) the witches forecast a complicated future, one that places the crown on Macbeth but none of his heirs. Later, these same bearers of mystical tidings reveal Macbeth cannot die by someone who is "...of woman born."
Invested in the thrill of her husband's reign over the land, Lady Macbeth (the intoxicating Ruth Negga) plots with Macbeth to assassinate their house guest, King Duncan (Paul Lazar, a downtown thespian darling). Frequently speaking directly to the audience, Lazar's quirky persona engraves the King with an insouciance unusual for royalty.
Physically fit and menacing, Craig harnesses his strongman chops to portray the wrath of Macbeth. Negga, on the other hand, synthesizes sheer ambition to unquenchable guilt in a performance that digs into Shakespeare's rich soil for sustenance and redemption.
What sets Negga apart is her effortless kinship to the language. She morphs from the steely, murderous accomplice to a woman gnawed by remorse and afflicted by apparitions. Simply put, she doesn't convert Lady Macbeth into a monster, instead, she fully portrays an iron-willed woman whose moral compass disintegrates.
While there is no denying Craig’s theatrical presence and appetite for power, the expression of the internal conflict that poisons his reason treads lightly on the tragedy's topsoil.
A fan of the complete James Bond franchise and a Shakespearean neophyte, my date was thoroughly engaged by the fresh, relatable style employed by Gold. Satisfyingly, all the fine cast members enunciate Shakespeare clearly without losing the original poetry and timbre.
At that same performance, the second balcony was jammed with what appeared to be junior high and high school students. Throughout the entire performance the audience was utterly silent. Now that’s a sign.
Purists might buck at "sacred" passages nonchalantly tossed into the stage fog, but if this production convinces viewers that Shakespeare embodies drama for our times — I count that as a win for classic theater.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis