Never would one expect to see Macbeth at the Longacre Theater tickets starring Daniel Craig on discount sites. A limited engagement play, what possibly would prevent it from selling out? Many patrons paid over $500 to see it, securing seats months in advance.
If you’re a Shakespeare fan and a purist, Sam Gold’s direction is not the version for you. The entire company breaks out into song with original music by Gaelynn Lea, and Michael Patrick Thornton narrates the play from his wheelchair, beginning with a brief history of Shakespeare. Yes, this is Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Thornton shares with us that King James commissioned a play about witches in 1606, having dreamt about the beheading of Queen Mary of Scotts and boats capsizing, all the result of witch activity. Witches become a reoccurring motif throughout the King’s life. Shakespeare wrote this play during a pandemic along with King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra, all in one year. Thornton states all he did for a year during the pandemic was “wheel around his apartment.”
I have two criteria for a Macbeth production. How the witches are portrayed and Lady Macbeth’s lines “Out damned spot.”
The three witches are a prophecy about how the Macbeth production will turn out.
There are endless interpretations, from Nurses to Halloween variants. The witch’s lines are the only pure iambic pentameter in the whole poem/play and are highly anticipated. How the witches are portrayed foreshadows the director’s interpretation and unique take on the production.
Gold’s witches seem as if they are having an organic potluck gathering. They are hanging out, cutting vegetables, and cooking as the audience is seated. Then a man is strung up by his feet (Danny Wolohan), and his throat is slit to bleed out into a container and then added to the stew the “witches” are brewing. I do not recommend front-row seats as it is a messy affair. Seeing the noseplugs in Wolohan’s nostrils was unnerving as the blood flowed from his neck. All this occurs during the narration/history lesson by Thorton, to which he excuses himself to move out of the way from the body being strung up. This play has a violence director, David S. Leong.
In a word – bizarre.
“Out damned spot,” was just said. There was no hand wringing or tortuous screaming; Ruth Negga (Lady Macbeth) moved her foot as if the spot was on the wooden stage floor and, looking down, said the infamous three words without fanfare. The ultimate denial or transference of blame – as if the floor killed Duncan. Negga admitted to never having read Macbeth before being cast in Gold’s production in an interview with Hanna Flint. Maureen Dowd’s 1999 New York Times column that calls Hillary Clinton a Lady Macbeth in a headband is a better visual than Ruth Negga. It is as if Negga is a cardboard cutout akin to a flat Stanley appearing on stage.
Amber Gray (Persephone in Hadestown) was an original Banquo. Fun casting to shake things up, making the King a “Queen.” However, when the pronouns in Shakespeare’s writing are changed, it takes away from the original work. It would be hard to improve on the original, and these additions fall short. 19th-century theatergoers knew all the lines in the plays and critics often pointed out departures. They would have a field day with Gold’s version. Do not mess with perfection.
Paul Lazar is a Bud Lite drinking King Duncan who says after he is killed, “I guess I’ve been fired.” This left the audience at best confused. He plays an exaggerated clownish caricature of the part. Gold may have intended some comedic interjection to an otherwise serious subject. As stated in Hamlet in the Metropolitan Opera’s libretto, “killing ensues.” Lazar certainly hits the comedic mark, but it is befuddling.
Craig scurried to his private car at the stage door, wearing a baseball cap and looking haggard and old. He did not even glance at the throngs of adoring fans.
I would grab the discounted $50 seats available and save your money.
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
With Daniel Craig (Macbeth), Ruth Negga (Lady Macbeth), Che Ayende (Witch /Lord), Phillip James Brannon (Second Witch/ Ross/ Murderer), Grantham Coleman (Macduff), Asia Katie Dillon (Malcolm), Maria Dizzia (First Witch/Lady Macduff/Doctor), Eboni Flowers (Witch/Lord), Amber Gray (Banquo/Gentlewoman), Emeka Guindo (Fleance/Young Siward), Paul Lazar (King Duncan/Porter/Siward), Bobbi Mackenzie (Third Witch/ Macduff’s Child), Michael Patrick Thornton (Lennox/Murderer), Danny Wolohan (Seyton, Bloody Captain/Murderer/Lord).
Directed by Sam Gold; Scenic design by Christine Jones; Costume design Suttirat Larlarb; lighting design Jane Cox; Sound design Mikaal Sulaiman; Original music Gaelynn Lea; Movement Sam Pinkleton; Violence director David S. Leong; Special effects Jeremy Chernick; Hair and wig design Tommy Kurzman; Projection design, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; Casting Caparelliotis Casting; Dramaturgy and Text consultants Michael Sexton and Ayanna Thompson; Production stage manager Kevin Bertolacci; voice coach Dawn-Elin Fraser; Press representative Polk & Co.; Advertising Serino Coyne; Production Management Aurora Productions; Company manager Christopher Taggart; General manager 101 Productions, LTD.
Runtime: about 2 hours with intermission
Macbeth at the Longacre Theater
230 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036