Five Reasons Why We Have Questions About Macbeth
By: Iris Wiener
May 22, 2022: Sam Gold certainly takes a unique spin on Shakespeare, though sometimes his forays into originality demonstrate too much liberality with the text. Though his 2019 Broadway run of the Glenda Jackson-led King Lear was a dud, his 2016 take on Othello at NYTW was profoundly unique and interesting. His current Macbeth, (in which he reunites with his Iago, Daniel Craig) lies somewhere in between. The Bond superstar is now the single-minded, droll Macbeth to Ruth Negga’s Lady Macbeth in a production fraught with oddities never before seen in the Scottish play. It left us with a plethora of questions:
1. Why did does this mounting, currently running at the Longacre Theatre, feel the need to appeal so vigorously to its audience to make the show feel approachable? Within moments of the curtain rising, we’re given a pre-show speech from Michael Patrick Thornton about the similarities between our pandemic and the plague that coursed through England at the time Macbeth was written. Why does he makes a point of using the word “Macbeth,” which is sacrilegious if you are a superstitious person of the theater, and encourage his audience to say it beneath their masks? It creates a messy segue into the opening of the play. Later, Macbeth needs to unwind, so he grabs a cold beer from an off-stage fridge. The motion serves more for shock value than it does to tell the story.
2. The show’s desperate plea continues with another, somewhat bleaker breaking of the fourth wall, which is executed in such a clumsy fashion at various moments. After King Duncan (Paul Lazar) is killed, he saunters downstage and pops the tab on his own cold one, asking, “You ever choke on a beer?” The action elicits awkward giggles and it seems to be trying (and failing) to pander to its audience. All it manages to do is make for yet another missed connection.
3. Why did Gold choose to induce “special effects” by having attendants follow actors around with smoke machines, held at chest length almost as if they are old-fashioned video cameras? Flashlights are used in a similar fashion. Are we meant to feel as if the show is so simple that we, the “everyman,” could have produced it, that we should be able to relate to these characters? The smoke machine actors add an element of chaos; maybe their purpose lies therein?
4. There’s no toil or trouble with the witches in this production; instead we get Maria Dizzia, Phillip James Brannon and Bobbi MacKenzie, who open the show cooking something in a bare bones kitchen. The purpose is vague and this iteration of the trio sorely lacks the dark nature that commonly sets the tone for Macbeth. Upon finally reaching the end of this head-scratcher of a play, Mckenzie, who also plays Macduff’s child, sings an original, out-of-place song by Gaelynn Lea called “Perfect.” The lyrics could be speaking to a love affair, but there is any number of interpretations that could be construed from it. Why does the rest of the cast sit on stage and eat the soup(?) that was stirred at the beginning?
5. Why waste such a talented supporting cast? Amber Grey’s follow-up to Hadestown was highly anticipated, but she is forgettable as Banquo. His ghostly return is entertaining to watch, but only within the lackluster parameters that have been set. Asia Kate Dillon’s Malcolm is exciting on the outside (the purple hair!) but Dillon is monotone and resolute. When Macduff learns that his wife and child have been murdered, why did Gold fall short in directing his aimless actors? Maybe a beer will help us figure this one out.
Longacre Theater, 220 W. 48th St., NYC.
Running time: two hours and 45 mins. including intermission. $35—$499. www.telecharge.com. April 28—July 10, 2022
Photography: Joan Marcus