ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Will Keen plays the nominal role here, and at first blush, it looks as if this Thane is miscast. Keen will hardly overwhelm you with his short, sturdy physique or his unassuming manner. John Douglas Thompson, who is currently playing Macbeth at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street, is far more heroic looking ( my review) . In fact, Keen is the rough equivalent in Act 1 of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. But wait, he will l morph into the ruthless murderer later on, expanding in courage and ambition. But in the early scenes, he seems completely incapable of performing any great crime.
Anastasia Hille's Lady Macbeth is an ideal match for Keen. She plays her role like a pythoness, who is quite capable of transforming her meek husband into a killing machine. Her entrance in Act 1 Scene 5, is one of the peak dramatic moments of this production. Reading Macbeth's letter, Hille appropriately reveals her character's cruel psyche. Her Lady Macbeth intuitively knows that she must pour her own cruel spirit into her husband's kinder one. She is wonderfully fetching in a chic black dress here, with her fair hair cascading over her shoulders. And when Keenjoins her in the chamber, one can immediately sense the couple's physical attraction and their close-knit psychological relationship.
Ormerod's spare set has a clean look and allows the audience to focus fully on the action and characters. Without any clutter on stage, there are no awkward scene changes and the ensemble has plenty of performing space in which to execute their highly-stylized choreographic movements. The entire cast is dressed in black t-shirts and military pants, which creates a silhouette effect.
From time to time the company achieves a dream-like fluidity and a surreal mood of menace. Though some theatergoers might object to this abstract quality and some liberties taken with Shakespeare's text, the ensemble never for a moment loses the narrative's thread.
The production has its drawbacks. The Porter, who traditionally offers comic relief, is played too flippantly by Kelly Hotten, who dressed as a female punk-rock porter looks too clownish for this otherwise elegant staging. What's more, Hotten's Porter reduces the dramatic impact of Macduff's entrance into the castle. While one surely wants to see the tragedy lighten up here, what is lost is the emblematic meaning of Macduff's arrival at the gate —: the harbinger of a new dawn for Scotland.
Innovative touches that work to effect r effect include how the witches here have no physical reality. They are represented as disembodied voices, collectively intoned by the ensemble in a shadowy twilight by lighting designerRoss Corbert. By spiriting away these creatures into the void, these supernatural agents curiously gain a new psychological clarity. In short, they become a state of mind that Macbeth (and briefly Banquo) enter, revealing their hunger for power, position, and ultimately, the Scottish crown.
Cheek by Jowl is well-known as the tiny troupe that can take on old warhorses and infuse new life into their sclerotic arteries. Theatergoers might recall their lively versions of Twelfth Night in 1986, their all-male As You Like It in 1992, and Cymbeline in 2007. Fortunately, their talent hasn't staled over the past 30 years.
Instead of a routine Macbeth, Donnellan offers a haunting new Jekyll-and-Hyde spin to the Scottish play with its casting of the unpretentious Keen. And perhaps even stranger —, without a single drop of blood spilled throughout the entire evening, one can memorably experience Shakespeare's bloodiest and most brutal play.