Thursday, June 29, 2006

Macbeth web media reviews

Let's start with a report sent by Katie Heape of Cincinnati (thanks!).

I just got back from a vacation to New York City. I saw Macbeth two nights in a row and I must say it was wonderful! I have never enjoyed Shakespeare more. It rained both days I was in line for tickets but it was worth it. Liev Schreiber was great as Macbeth. He played the part with such conviction. Jennifer Ehle was very convincing as Lady Macbeth. She was the perfect match for Liev. And I have never seen Jennifer look more beautiful. She looked radiant.

The first night I saw Macbeth it drizzled through most of the performance. But the actor's were troopers and the show went on. The stage was pretty wet just before the intermission and I was afraid that Jennifer would slip in her heels. But thankfully she didn't and the show was great. After the play was finished, Liev thanked the audience for sticking it out through the weather.

Now to the press. Bits mentioning Ms Ehle are excerpted.

  • Alexis Greene of the Hollywood Reporter is disappointed, pointing the finger at the war allusion:

    Kaufman is not the first director, and surely won't be the last, to use Europe during the 1920s and '30s as a metaphor for present disintegration. And maybe that is part of the problem. This overused reference has lost its intellectual and dramatic punch. We've seen it, we get it.

    What's more, the concept leads Kaufman into an anti-theatrical staging of a wonderfully theatrical play. The three Weird Sisters (Joan MacIntosh, Ching Valdes-Aran, Lynn Cohen), costumed in tattered, faded uniforms to look like the ghosts of soldiers past, are hardly the stuff to astonish Macbeth with their fantastic appearance or arouse fear in an audience. As for Schreiber and Jennifer Ehle ("Pride and Prejudice"), they play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as a striving, largely emotionless, 20th century couple.

    Still, this Macbeth falls apart much sooner than his wife. Schreiber's would-be king becomes almost physically ill after murdering Duncan (the ever-dependable Herb Foster), while Ehle consistently acts Lady M. as a woman so in control that it is hard to believe she would ever go mad.

    Schreiber, who seems to speak the verse effortlessly, has his most affecting moment when he sits in a chair, waiting for battle, and gives the "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy near the play's finish. But in this deflated vision of the play, the words sound merely like regret for plans gone wrong. That might be what the director intended, but it is considerably less than the moment of moral insight that Shakespeare wrote.

    In sum, the production shows us a failed attempt to hold on to power rather than the portrait of awful despotism that Shakespeare conceived.

  • Whereas there's a rave review by Matthew Murray of Talkin' Broadway.

    ... Forget Brad and Angelina and (especially) Harry and Kelli - it's in Liev Schreiber and Jennifer Ehle that the year's real steam heat can be found. As the lord and lady who share the name of the William Shakespeare classic they're currently setting ablaze, Macbeth, these two Tony-winning stars are cannily proving that the world's sexiest writer has been dead for 400 years.

    What might appear on the page as stuffy, stuffed pronouncements of ambition intertwined with lunacy are, in Schreiber and Ehle's hands, the sizzling pillow talk of a newlywed couple who haven't yet learned how to keep their hands off each other. They embrace and kiss only once, but it's heated enough to suggest that with these two, things are as bloody, brutal, and exciting in the bedroom as they are at court.
    As the stack of bodies grows - counting Scottish king Duncan, lateral lord Banquo, and the family of suspecting Thane of Fife Macduff - for this first time you see this couple's inner collapses brought about by crumbling of their impeccably kept external fa├žades. Ehle, for example, is so understated during Lady Macbeth's rambling struggle to scrub her skin of her complicity that it's like hearing these oft-quoted (and frequently mocked) lines for the first time: Is she truly concerned only because she can't apply the proper foundation over dried blood?

    Hers is such an invigorating, smokingly fresh portrayal, that Kaufman's reluctance to invest equivalent originality in the rest of the production feels like a betrayal. But whenever Lord and Lady Macbeth aren't onstage, the action drops from a rolling boil to a bare simmer, with the artifice more visible and the pacing highly questionable. (Macbeth, Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and one of his shortest plays, should never clock in at nearly two and a half hours, as this one does.)
    The scenes the two [Macbeth and Lady M] share pulse with a passion that utterly defeats Kaufman's attempts to bring the rest of the play down to (and, in the case of the Sisters, below) Earth. They vividly and effortlessly communicate the erotic seductiveness of power, whether in the form of taking another's life or in reveling in one's own physical attractiveness. Very little else in this Macbeth says even half as much.

    Some naysayers respond in an All That Chat thread, and there's more owchiness at BroadwayWorld and the Liev Schreiber forum.
  • David Finkle for TheaterMania:

    The problem here is one of refinement, both in Schreiber's pellucid voice and the production surrounding him. Kaufman, in his first go at the Bard, has chosen to offer Macbeth as a kind of boulevard tragedy, which is something of a mistake. In this version, the savage husband and wife, whose individual guilty consciences kick in at different stages, are presented as a business-savvy couple out to seek a promotion from a vulnerable boss. Not that the blood doesn't flow; it certainly does. The busy Macbeths and their victims frequently show up dripping from what must be a sizable backstage vat of fake blood.

    Still, for too much of the play, Schreiber and fellow Tony Award winner Jennifer Ehle -- whose Lady Macbeth owes a good deal to Grace Kelly in High Society -- talk and behave as if their greatest collaborative ambition is to mix the perfect dry martini. Yes, Shakespeare perceptively portrays Macbeth as a man with the capacity to question his motives and Lady Macbeth as a woman who calculatingly questions her husband's misgivings. But no matter how analytic they are, they must also appear more cutthroat than Kaufman requires them to be.
    Indeed, there's a basic disconnect in both the concept and the production. The prelude, with stressed soldiers littering the stage, says "Iraq war" as blatantly as Fox News supports it -- yet, the rest of the play specifies the era between the World Wars. That sort of muddle is just one reason this Macbeth really doesn't work.

  • Rob Kendt for draws parallels with horror movies, no doubt to set up that "Knight of the Living Dead" pun.
    But these contemporary notes are sounded matter-of-factly, not insistently. Indeed, the strength of Kaufman's production is its straightforwardness—its surehanded mix of naturalism and the supernatural. While Schreiber traces a convincingly understated arc, from a brooding and distracted striver reluctantly pushed to "catch the nearest way" to a doddering monster with "a mind diseased," the cast and the production that surrounds him are admirably unembarrassed to go to extremes. Jennifer Ehle's Lady Macbeth, despite her blonde curls and womanly gowns, is unfailingly steely and sexless (and so reminiscent of Meryl Streep, in her look and her diction, that it practically qualifies as body-snatching). We may miss a few of the role's finer shadings, but her businesslike mien makes a perfect spur for Schreiber's wracked equivocation.

    There's also a photo similar to the Newsday one below.
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