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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
But hold onto your sun bonnets! Packer has put dance/movement choreographer Susan Dibble to work to introduce a wildly inventive ensemble dance that caps the witches chants-- the witches in this production metamorphosing into seven scientists who do their prophesying as they work on experiments which might be anything from a cure for a dread disease to the wherewithal for spreading it to innocent people. That scene plays like something from a dark Brechtian musical and represents one of the more inspired aspects of this modernized Macbeth.
Without noticeable textual changes, the updating is achieved mostly through the look and sound of the production. The talk is of the Norwegian-Scottish conflict Shakespeare was writing about, this conflict fits any place, any time. The sounds of helicopters, modern weapons and recorded voices, including those of contemporary leaders, are everywhere. Besides the white scientists' coats for the enlarged and re-envisioned witches' recitations, the actors sport Marine combat uniforms, Secret Service agents' gear, kimonos and robes, with Lady Macbeth making her first appearance in a chic suit with metaphorically apt blood-red jacket and black-as-evil skirt. The real updating is of course provided by the events of 9/11 and the ever escalating Middle East conflict which inspired Ms. Packer to launch her season, not with a forget-your-troubles nostalgic show as her Berkshire neighbors did, but with an attempt to use the play in which Shakespeare shone a light into the darkest corner's of the mind in which the desire for power battle the instincts of decency. The Macbeths, after all, exemplify people who, though not necessarily up to the challenge, are willing to do anything to rise to the top of the power chain.
I am not a purist and have enjoyed many a departure from Shakespeare as written, so have no quarrel with the contemporary, international look and sound of this production. I also admire Ms. Packer's effort to use use the theater as a means of helping us to make sense of some of the senseless events of the recent past and present. However, some of the casting choices don't turn out to be the good ideas they must have seemed -- for example, having the Macbeth also playing young Macduff whom he has murdered.
With only eight actors to carry the weight of so many parts, there's also no room for hit and miss performances. Johnny Lee Davenport, whose rich Shakespearian voice and line delivery has enhanced past productions, is one such consistent performer. Jason Asprey, is wonderful in his scene as Macduff confronting the horror of his family's destruction, but less so as a Secret Service agent and Spirit. Michael Hammond, is another consistently solid cast member. However, terrific as his Fourth Wall breaking Cockney Porter is, it is like a show-stopping musical number and thus ends up being more a free-standing act than an integral part of everything else.
The chief problems in terms of performance relate to how the corrupt couple are conceived and interpreted -- something of a cross between Bonny and Clyde and Eva and Juan Peron. For Dan McCleary, who was justly praised for his Coriolanus, lightning hasn't struck struck twice. While he invests the part with much energy, he simply doesn't seem to inhabit it, or even the poetic rhythms, comfortably enough for the actor disappears into the character. Carolyn Roberts's too shrill Lady Macbeth telescopes her impending madness by arriving on stage clutching a ragdoll.
As usual, in this beautiful new theater, the action spills into the aisles and balcony, so that you seem as much in the play as watching it. Given her partnership with a professor of management at Columbia Business School, Ms. Packer could as easily have adapted Macbeth to tie in with the Enron and other scandals. Business tycoons and the golden parachutes they fashion for themselves might be even funnier than the Porter in his gold lame shoes.
Some other Macbeth productions -- most, like this one interesting but not perfect-- reviewed at CurtainUp
Macbeth, the Opera (opera)
Macbeth at the Public Theaterr
Macbeth at London's Queens Theater Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare
Macbeth by the Theatre New Audiences
Macbeth on Broadway
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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