Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

May 05, 2008

Kate Fleetwood and Patrick Stewart debate their stain removal options
Photo : Richard Termine 2008

I decided to stick around New York an extra day in part due to the recommendation of a friend that I see the Chichester Festival production of Macbeth that opened last month at BAM and has since transferred to Broadway to the Lyceum Theater on 45th Street. One of the reasons this production has received so much attention is that amongst its very good cast Patrick Stewart appears in the title role. I was advised by my friend that this may be the best Macbeth I’ll ever see and given Stewart’s performance that might well be the case. He’s excellent primarily because he’s one of those performers who seems to understand the similarities, and more importantly the differences, between Macbeth and Shakespeare’s other torn “hero” Hamlet. Stewart is neither endlessly conflicted, nor is he so menacing that there is no room for sympathy. He does the mad business well to boot.

The production is bloody, bold, and resolute if nothing else and may be one of the most disturbing and dark Macbeth’s I’ve seen. Set in what appears to be an abandoned institutional kitchen (or perhaps a New York subway station) in some totalitarian period of the 20th century, the feeling is definitely more Stalin than Hitler. The witches become off-kilter nurses, and guns are brandished as readily as knives. However, all of this is augmented with technologically savvy audio-visual elements in the form of synched video projected onto the set at key moments. This is particularly effective during a bit of stage business derived to place the intermission in the middle of the banquet scene. Act I concludes with the actual arrival of Banquo’s ghost who, covered in blood, appears at the rear of the stage arriving in the service elevator as we see a video projection of blood steadily increasing from a trickle to a pour on either side of the elevator entrance. Banquo approaches Macbeth directly on top of the table allowing his shocked response to conclude Act I. Act II opens again at the beginning of the banquet scene, but this time it is replayed from the point of view of the dinner guests, now with Macbeth suddenly responding to an unseen specter. It’s a clever ruse and just one of many that director Rupert Goold has masterfully woven into the production. Not only does this Macbeth have the expected body count, but the military campaigns that underpin this work seem more visceral and urgent than one usually expects.

Of course, there is much more to the evening than clever tricks and Patrick Stewart. The rest of the cast is very good and Kate Fleetwood’s take on Lady Macbeth is immensely gratifying. It’s a rather multi-dimensional take on the role that is much more than just unbridled fearful ambition. But she nor anyone else skimps on the ick factor here. There is little sunshine in this chamber of horrors but, while brutal, it’s a trip definitely worth taking.


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