Monday, May 12, 2008

Macbeth (The SOB Review)

Macbeth (The SOB Review) - Lyceum Theatre, New York, NY

** (out of ****)

Forget, just for a moment, all the stylishly subversive and ultimately superfluous Stalinist influences infused by director Rupert Goold into this maddeningly uneven, noisy revival of William Shakespeare's bloody classic.

Essentially, what Goold has created is the world's first hiphop Macbeth, complete with its trio of rapping witches, er, weeatches, baby. You have to give him credit for being inventive.

With plenty of piss and vinegar, Goold throws in everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink. Heck, he even goes so far as to provide a gratuitously perverse peeing in the kitchen sink from Christopher Patrick Nolan's appropriately named Seyton, footsoldier to Macbeth. Suffice to say, at times Goold's pretentious production often borders on the obscene when it isn't reaching for parody.

Fortunately, this crass rendition of Shakespeare's bloodcurdling warrior-cum-king and his manipulative wife (a seductively chilling Kate Fleetwood) rises whenever a superb follicularly-challenged, classicly-trained English actor takes to the stage. No, I'm not talking about Patrick Stewart as the eponymous traitor, although this gifted thespian does offer up a fairly competent take that like much of this bombastic production is all too often muted by Adam Cork's overblown sound design.

No, it was the brilliantly nuanced portrayal of Macduff by the aptly named Michael Feast, who provides a veritably bold Bard banquet as the nobleman agonizing over the death of his family. His gritty determination to avenge their murders is amplified, ironically enough, because Cork's sound is specifically turned down.

Thankfully, Goold has also enlisted Broadway's ubiquitous Byron Jennings with all-to-brief, but welcome appearances both as King Duncan of Scotland (who meets with his bloody end at the hands of Macbeth fairly early) and a Scottish doctor. Blessedly, Jennings has also mastered the art of enunciating his words so they may be understood and savored by the audience.

Never mind, however, that this is, indeed, the Scottish play. Evoking the Soviet's most ruthless dictator, Lorna Heavey's frequently repetitious yet equally enthralling projection design and Howard Harrison's eerie lighting add tremendous texture to Anthony Ward's deceptively simple set, making for a visually stunning set design.

But all this overblown pomposity, amped up a few decibles too many, needlessly overtakes Macbeth's often obsolete Old English language that's spoken with largely indecipherable accents. In the end, it only serves to obscure what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest tragedy.

And that's the biggest tragedy, if you ask me.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 12 May, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the production although the excessive gimmickry often eclipsed the fine acting by the entire cast. I still think Patrick Stewart is a shoo-in for the Tony.

At 12 May, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this unique production and Kate Fleetwood was amazing I thought. Never before or again will I probably see hip-hop nurses in a Shakespeare play but it worked. An over-the-top production to be sure but undeniably memorable.

At 12 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

BB, I don't think Patrick Stewart is a lock, but he'll definitely be the man to beat.

Dylan, Glad you enjoyed the production. I think I may have been in the minority in only being intermittently moved by this Macbeth. But I agree that it is most definitely memorable.

At 13 May, 2008, Blogger Frances Uku said...

steve, i never comment on reviews due to a rather obvious conflict of interest, but i must risk saying that you absolutely nailed this one. i wish i could thank byron jennings for making such sweet love to my ears, and as for michael feast - well, simply a revelation.

At 13 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Frances, Thanks so much for your comments. Glad my review resonated with you!

At 15 May, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on the money. I sat through this Play and I was HATING it. I could not stand the barrage of mixed media and pretentiousness. Oh well.

At 15 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Richard, Thanks for your comments, as well as for letting me know I'm not the only one who walked out of the Lyceum wondering what all the fuss what about.

In his slam of the show when first presented on these shores in February at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Village Voice's Michael Feingold prefaces his pan by noting Americans' Anglophile addiction:

"British productions, British directors, and British stars invariably arrive here in a shower of ecstatic hoopla that has relatively little to do with the quality or the significance of the work involved; the gushing reception often perplexes our Britannic visitors -- who know the goods and bads of their own country's work perfectly well --every bit as much as it does me."

I could not agree with him more.

At 15 May, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I just don't understand all the adulation for Patrick Stewart. I really like him in the X-Men movies, but in Macbeth, he simply didn't make as strong an impression on me as I thought he would. I don't know, maybe he was brilliant and it just went over my head!

I thought alot of Macbeth was great to look at: some of the visual touches, like the appearance of Banquo's ghost, were stunning. As much as I liked the videos, they were a bit overdone. I mean, we get the Stalin analogy already! And showing us something on a video screen can never be a replacement for the actors making us feel something.

This is the fourth highly touted British production that I've seen -preceded by Frost/Nixon, The 39 Steps and Rock 'n' Roll. And my favorite by far was The 39 Steps.

At 15 May, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I believe Patrick Stewart was overwhelmed by the sound design. I could barely register what he was saying - I couldn't hear him well at all.


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