The energy is robust and the pacing brisk, both necessary for the free theatergoer’s attention span, and the visual effects only solidify an already top-notch production. A successful fusion of various theatrical styles on one of the classic greats, this Macbeth is not to be missed.
(6/25) Macbeth, when produced in scope and with a full ensemble, is a bloody Shakespearian play. Soldiers die en masse, chaos reigns, and power corrupts, absolutely. The Public Theater’s outdoor version, at the Delacourt Theater, is not only well served by the enormity of the space and the backdrop of mighty nature itself, but by Moisés Kaufman’s highly aesthetic approach. Here, corpses parade across the stage like a stricter version of Sweeny Todd, and 1940s sound effects collide with harsh modern lighting to rapidly contrast Macbeth’s guilt-ridden psychosis with the all-too-cruel world itself.
If you reap what you sow—and Macbeth’s tragic downfall is surely a measure of his overzealous attention to prophecy—then it’s no surprise that Kaufman’s adaptation is so delicately beautiful, nor that that the beauty cannot be sustained. His costuming—straying from classic trims to, by the final act, a modern tux—makes no sense, but looks stunning, and the makeup—particularly that of the Weird sisters—is compelling. The blocking of certain scenes—notably the banquet where Banquo “haunts” Macbeth and the famous “double, double, toil and trouble” cauldron scene—is arresting, and at least the comedic bits, like the Porter’s out-of-place monologue, are aimed at the audience, where such throwaway distractions work best. The set does more for effect than the rest of the show itself—the flimsiness actually works in its favor, a castle even more in decay than the missing chunks and scattered rubble belie.
Where Kaufman loses the beauty is in the second act, where scenes start to grow melodramatic and rushed, and actors like Lady Macbeth (Jennifer Ehle, who shone in the first act) don’t seem up to their “out damn spot” speeches. The acting is, on the whole, very consistent, and Liev Schreiber, as Macbeth, almost underplays the role, though I find myself agreeing with his wry and dry portrayal (especially since this leaves Schreiber with somewhere to go in the second act). By the climactic showdown between Macduff (the fiery Sterling K. Brown) and Macbeth, Kaufman is back on track; I just hope the slight imbalance is ironed out by the opening.
This production of Macbeth has nothing to be ashamed of: even in that mid-act slump, the cast still slings its phrases more naturally than most actors perform contemporary works. The energy is robust and the pacing brisk, both necessary for the free theatergoer’s attention span, and the visual effects only solidify an already top-notch production. A successful fusion of various theatrical styles on one of the classic greats, this Macbeth is not to be missed.
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