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Macbeth
by Rob Kendt

Photo by Michal Daniel
Liev Schreiber
& Jennifer Ehle in Macbeth
It may not be fair to invoke a serious stage actors pulpier film roles, particularly when that actor is the estimable Liev Schreiber and his newest Shakespearean role is that titan of temptation, Macbeth. Still, for the Public Theaters darkly glimmering new production of the Scottish play, director Moisés Kaufman has drawn so freely, and mostly effectively, from the lexicon of horror movies that we may occasionally wonder if weve wandered into a multiplex rather than into the Central Park digs of the Delacorte. If the result doesnt quite bring to mind such Schreiber vehicles as The Omen or the Scream series, Kaufmans consistently bloody and spooky-fun Macbethin which the ghosts are stubbornly corporeal and an army of darkness falls, then rises againmight at least be called Knights of the Living Dead.

These arent necessarily the first references we get from this modern-dress production, set on a debris-strewn stage with a faintly ravaged palace interior and doors that blow open and shut of their own accord (the set is by Derek McLane, the creepy lighting by David Lander). The pre-show features a sentry dressed in mid-20th-century fatigues, who paces the stage with a bayonet and scans the audience warily, as we hear distant bombing, marching and an unintelligible speech blaring, evoking an Orwellian state of permanent war and martial law. And putting the Weird Sisters in their own ashen, highly distressed line of military garb suggests that they are battle-hardened agents provocateurs, not ethereal sprites (costumes are by Michael Krass).

Story continues below


Photo by Michal Daniel
Jennifer Ehle
as Lady Macbeth
But these contemporary notes are sounded matter-of-factly, not insistently. Indeed, the strength of Kaufmans production is its straightforwardnessits surehanded mix of naturalism and the supernatural. While Schreiber traces a convincingly understated arc, from a brooding and distracted striver reluctantly pushed to "catch the nearest way" to a doddering monster with "a mind diseased," the cast and the production that surrounds him are admirably unembarrassed to go to extremes. Jennifer Ehles Lady Macbeth, despite her blonde curls and womanly gowns, is unfailingly steely and sexless (and so reminiscent of Meryl Streep, in her look and her diction, that it practically qualifies as body-snatching). We may miss a few of the roles finer shadings, but her businesslike mien makes a perfect spur for Schreibers wracked equivocation.

Likewise Peter Golubs ominous music, the synthetically macabre sound design of Acme Sound Partners and some of the sets special effects (the best of which incorporates the towering trees of the park itself)all would seem scarifyingly over-the-top if they werent played straight. When the witches present those floating daggers to Macbeth, or unveil oracles from their steaming cauldron, sound and lights conspire to make each cue as sharp and as literal-minded as quick-cut film editing; Schreibers Macbeth responds with unfakeable conviction and makes us believers, too.

The cinematic cross-cutting of the terrible Macduff murders is another case in point: The action pauses as the assassins surprise Lady Macduff (Florencia Lozano) and her son (Tolan Aman), and we jump to the odd exchange between the self-deprecating heir Malcolm (Jacob Fishel) and the stalwart Macduff (Sterling K. Brown). Its only after Ross (the dryly efficient Philip Goodwin) enters with the report of the killings that we get the dubious privilege of witnessing them, in a slasher-film evisceration so bloody that the splash of stage gore is audible.

The final conflict, with its dandy swordplay abstracted into a this-was-your-life apocalypse, comes perilously close to the brink of the silliness the show otherwise skirts so well. But with this stark and engaging Macbeth, Kaufman has made the case, if the case need yet be made, that Shakespeare is the English languages original master of horror.

Macbeth
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Delacorte Theater, Central Park

 
Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 6/28/2006 4:28:00 PM

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