"Macbeth" at BAM


The only completely wise decision that Cheek by Jowl's artistic director, Declan Donnellan, made in directing the production of Macbeth which premiered last night at BAM's Harvey Theater was to do the entire play without an intermission. Had there been one, we should gladly have availed ourselves of the opportunity gracefully to leave this horrendous production, instead of being trapped into remaining for its painful entirety.

I had thought I might really enjoy this production, what with it being almost costume-less, prop-less, and on a nearly blank stage. All this sounded to me like a promisingly minimalist approach to this great tragedy by Shakespeare. I began to be wary, however, when I saw the picture in the program of a punk Kelly Hotten, with wild red hair, green eye makeup, and on a telephone: I had no idea what she was going to be in the play, but I was extremely uneasy about what the possibilities might be. (It turned out that she was a ridiculous portrayal of the Porter, drunkenly guarding the gate to Macbeth's castle; she was better later in her role as Lady Macduff.) What we got instead of the "spare" or "autere" production that was promised was an unceasingly frenetic, chaotic, anxiety-driven travesty of this great play. I thought at different times it was Macbeth a la the Marx Brothers ("A Night at the Castle"?) or The Keystone Cops; but these comparisons do great disservice to these far better companies and their deeper, more meaningful portrayals of the human condition.

The worst problem was that there was no character played with any stature in this production. And the ambition, ruthlessness, brutality, and even madness of the play become trivial and meaningless without it. The beautiful Anastasia Hille as Lady Macbeth literally runs about the stage frantically from the very beginning of the play, as do most of the minor characters--evoking more thoughts of a neurotic aerobics class than of a noble tragedy; and, despite her beautiful voice, her misguided interpretation lacked any depth. Very worst, Macbeth as portrayed by Will Keen was almost farcical--meaninglessly posturing, aimlessly running, wildly gesticulating. His notion of how to handle the well-know soliloquies was extremely to slow down, insert long, empty pauses, and to seem physically to become spastic--as if this would serve to convey emotional intensity. (Shakespeare's great play requires that we can feel a profound, albeit troubling, connection to Macbeth--almost, according to Harold Bloom, an ability to indentify with Macbeth and the frightening nature of his imagination and his capacity to convert it quite immediately into action. To do so in the face of the horrific actions he takes requires that there be a depth and stature to his character that bestow a humanity to it, even in the face of his lack of humanity. In this production, there was none of any of that.) Douglas Caves's portrayal of Macduff was the only one that ran counter to this high-energy, low-intelligence approach; and this seemed at first to signal a much better performance--but, in the end, it was equally empty, just at a lower energy level (and, interestingly, lacking any trace of masculinity--a strange approach to this role). Have I mentioned I really did not like this production?

Perhaps worst of all, the very fabric of the play seems to have been attacked, decimated, or ignored. Shakespeare's words--when they were even there (and a great many were not)--were not accorded the least bit of respect: garbled, swallowed, overshadowed both by meaningless running about and unintelligible noises, they often were not able to be heard, no less fully comprehended.

Have I mentioned lately that I really didn't like this production?

Well...I could rant further; but I really do not think the production merits the attention.

My simple advice: stay as far away from this one as possible!


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