At the very beginning of the new Broadway revival of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” now at the Longacre Theatre, actor Michael Dean Thornton comes out and gives the audience a bit of historical background about the writing of the work; specifically, that it was meant to satisfy King James I’s fascination with witches. That’s all well and good, but it would have been a better idea to explain – especially to those who have never seen or read the play – why its idiosyncratic director Sam Gold chose to surround his two first-rate stars, Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga, with such a confusing and often nonsensical production.
I can’t explain why Gold, admittedly notorious for tinkering with the Bard’s work, has created a show without any sense of time or place, thanks in part to Christine Jones’ barely-there set (albeit one complete with an actual kitchen sink) and Suttirat Larlab’s mishmash of modern dress costumes (some of which, especially for Craig and Negga, are quite stunning). We’re told this is Scotland, but it could be Iceland, Greenland or Maryland.
Moreover, Gold also engages in so much nontraditional casting (a practice which is certainly to be encouraged) that the uninitiated may initially think the fabulous Amber Gray is Lady Macbeth, when she’s really Macbeth’s pal Banquo (who has been turned into a woman). And even I was confused when the wonderful Maria Dizzia, first seen as one of the three witches and then very moving in her brief scenes as Lady Macduff, reemerges later as Lady Macbeth’s doctor. Such budget-conscious measures seem completely unnecessary when you realize Craig and Negga, the production’s marquee attractions, are going to bring in the box office bucks.
Better still, they more than earn their proverbial keep! Craig may never be able to escape us seeing him as James Bond, and given the “tone” of the production, I was half-expecting to hear “The Writing’s on the Wall” at some point. Nevertheless, he makes a remarkably convincing leap from the somewhat timid Scottish nobleman who is content with his minor titles to the man – spurred on by both his ambitious wife and the witches’ prophecies – who literally lets no one and nothing stop him from first becoming King, and then holding on to his throne by any means necessary, including a final head-to-head battle with best pal MacDuff (an excellent Grantham Coleman).
Further, as he proved as a brilliant Iago in Gold’s far more satisfying production of “Othello,” Craig is completely comfortable with the Bard’s verse, making it accessible to modern audiences. Only his recitation of the famous “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech towards the show’s end feels a bit overwrought.
Conversely, Negga never strikes a false note, verbally or physically. Watching her – and I dare you not to even when she has little to do -- it feels like she’s prepared all her life (and she’s a remarkably young-looking 40-year-old) for this role. Every gesture she makes, every word of her dialogue has clear intention. And Negga’s superlative performance of Lady Macbeth’s shattering “Out, damned spot” scene should be watched by acting students everywhere.
In short, there is brilliance in this “Macbeth.” And toil. And trouble.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Daniel Craig, Ruth Negga, Phillip James Brannon, Grantham Coleman, Asia Kate Dillon, Maria Dizzia, Amber Gray, Emeka Guindo, Paul Lazar, Bobbi MacKenzie, Michael Patrick Thornton, Danny Wolohan, Che Ayende, Eboni Flowers, Peter Smith, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Emeka Guindo, Paul Lazar, Peter Smith, Michael Patrick Thornton
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