Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Gods and Monsters"

A Macbeth review from Gay City News.

Given the extent to which many of our contemporary political leaders, notably our president, claim to receive guidance and approbation from the realm of the supernatural, one could only wish that they evinced a shred of the questioning, doubt, or introspection of Macbeth. That is what makes the Scottish king human and prone to tragedy. This is the riveting subtext in the sumptuous yet intimate production of Shakespeare’s play getting a fantastic mounting in Central Park with a powerful and revelatory performance by Liev Schreiber in the title role. The sustained tension and dramatic irony of Mois├ęs Kaufman’s production accepts that supernatural forces may not be wrong, but Macbeth’s demise is due to his egomaniacal misinterpretation of them. At the height of his power madness, Macbeth believes himself invincible because the Weird Sisters tell him he cannot be destroyed by “one of woman born.” Only then does he shed the insecurity that has wracked him—just to be cut down by Macduff, born, as it turns out, not technically by woman, but by C-section. Those pesky details get you every time.

As directed by Kaufman, Schreiber is the definitive Macbeth for our time. Lacking any real conviction or even passion to be king, he and Lady Macbeth (the sublime Jennifer Ehle) are nonetheless the consummate opportunists who once they see that supreme power is just a little murder away abandon all morality to achieve it. Power for power’s sake is the aim. After all, who doesn’t want really nice clothes and the ability to go to war on a whim to show who’s in charge? Schreiber exhibits a command of the stage that is truly extraordinary, and the dichotomy between the actor’s powerful stature and the character’s insipid vacillations is striking. Schreiber gives us a Macbeth so devoid of moral footing that he can be had and manipulated by his beliefs, by his wife, and by his lust for power.

Ehle is a wonderful Lady Macbeth. It is she who wants the power and works through her husband to get it. Unbridled by the doubts that slow Macbeth, she dives headlong into evil to achieve her ends. That it should lead her to madness is quaint by modern standards—today Lady Macbeth would probably turn into Ann Coulter and make millions—but Ehle abandons herself to the role and makes it rich and real.

Kaufman has staged the production with cinematic fluidity, which propels the action while maintaining absolute clarity of the narrative—no mean feat with Shakespeare’s epics. The exceptional design with sets by Derek McLane, costumes by Michael Krass, and lighting by David Lander would seem to set the production in the destabilized Europe of the 1940s, but despite Lady M’s magnificent clothes, the overall look of the show evokes a video game more than a movie; whether or not that was the intent, it’s brilliant. In video games, epic stories often combine with relentless mayhem to create a world of unending battles, persistent tension, and little—or short-lived—resolution. If only such things weren’t so real.

No comments: