The complexities behind Macbeth's surrender to evil and to overpowering destiny are compellingly embodied in Schreiber's contained performance but less so in other aspects of Moises Kaufman's intermittently forceful Shakespeare in the Park production. It takes more than a commanding lead to make this most brutal and brisk of tragedies resonate fully.
The doomed antihero has a glam ice queen in Jennifer Ehle's Lady Macbeth, and the sexual chemistry between her and Schreiber adds spark to their scenes. Looking like she's stepped out of the pages of a vintage movie magazine, Ehle works hard to override her natural softness; she plays the role about a decade later than Kaufman's time frame, coming across like a steely '40s film noir manipulatrix. The approach works even if Ehle is more persuasive when summoning "direst cruelty" to galvanize her wavering husband to action than when later succumbing to her own demons.
Director Moisés Kaufman ("The Laramie Project") takes a largely straight-forward route, shunning anything too experimental, which, in the past, has hobbled some productions in the park.
The result is a fine time up at the old castle, marked by a few creative tweaks.
As Lady Macbeth, Ehle is too measured and mannered to register deep impact. Her fever for the throne seems low-grade, which undermines her push for power and her descent into madness after the murders. Her choice? Director's orders? Ask an oracle. But she might have borrowed some heat from Florencia Lozano, who boils a bit too high as the doomed Lady Macduf
If you're up for less dainty, more seasoned turmoil, the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park series is presenting Macbeth through July 9, with the excellent Liev Schreiber in the title role. Jennifer Ehle, eschewing the sweetness and light she has lent to other stage and screen roles, makes a coldly efficient Lady Macbeth. Teagle F. Bougere, Sterling K. Brown and others add rigorous support.
"Macbeth" is Shakespeare's shortest play, yet its Central Park production by the Public Theater seems, even with considerable cuts, overlong.
Moises Kaufman, an inconsistent director at best, has elicited performances that only rarely rise to mediocrity. Liev Schreiber, as Macbeth, displays none of the hero-villain's charisma, or even much conviction in his line readings. His baritone roams from shouts to whispers arbitrarily situated.
As his Lady, the inveterately charming Jennifer Ehle plays a modern society hostess whose careful finishing-school upbringing hardly allows her cultivated soprano to stray beyond the limits of good breeding.
Unfortunately, there's little to distinguish this production other than the presence of its starry leads. This is Kaufman's first attempt at staging the Bard, and it feels a little tentative.
Although filled with ominous touches, including portentous sound and lighting effects, there's little dramatic urgency - no small detriment, considering that is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, and his most breathless work.
His co-star is equally disappointing. Although Ehle has proven herself wonderfully capable of comedy in such stage productions as "Design for Living," her Lady Macbeth lacks the fierceness of a woman bent on murder. Although she well conveys her character's ardor for her husband - you can really feel the heat between these attractive performers - she's less successful at making her machinations believable.
...Yet Mr. Kaufman, for all his political preoccupations, is also a true showman, and he has somehow managed to turn these week-old leftovers into a thriller full of sumptuous pageantry and drenched in buckets of stage blood.
Liev Schrieber's too-mellifluous Macbeth reminded me of the similar performance he gave three years ago in Mark Wing-Davies's Shakespeare in the Park production of "Henry V." Now as then, I found him boringly smooth in the first half, passionate and convincing in the second. Jennifer Ehle, by contrast, was wonderful from start to finish. Though she is chiefly known in the U.S. as the best of all possible Elizabeths in the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice" miniseries, Ms. Ehle's theatrical quiver contains other equally sharp arrows, and her Lady Macbeth -- now venomous, now terror-stricken -- is worth standing in line to see.
Broadway.com excerpts reviews from various sources, all of which we've covered here. Today's NY Sun has an article by A.L. Gordon about the opening night revels:
"Bad Shakespeare in Central Park would be great. But great Shakespeare? What a fantastic night," real estate developer Joseph Rose said after the opening night performance of "Macbeth." The play had ended, and Mr. Rose and a few hundred others had climbed up to Belvedere Castle for the cast and crew party, an event full of Falstaffian mirth for those who could handle the humidity.
Also, in the NYT, artistic director Oskar Eustis discusses the Public's war theme for this season. There's a profile on him in NY Magazine.
Bloggers and LJ'ers too must have their share of the conversation. In general, they dig the park experience but many are unimpressed with the production. Open Firefox and go: apythia, milkdropcoronet, WTF NYC, Sam, Sammy, sixandthecity. The latter gets points for calling Ms Ehle's Lady M "flawlessly flawed" and us a "rather intense fan blog". (US, INTENSE?!?!?!! NO WAY!!)