|Ethan Hawke. Photo: T. Charles Erickson|
By Lauren Yarger
Gosh, there's some guy named Will making quite a splash on Broadway this season. We have seen productions of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Richard III and that's before a few Off-Broadway offerings in 2013. The latest of the Bard's plays to beat the Broadway boards is Macbeth starring Ethan Hawke.
Don't get me wrong. I am a big Shakespeare fan. I have read and seen a lot of his works and as long as Romeo isn't wearing red sneakers (as in one Yale production....), I am there. When producers feel the need to bring the off-produced plays to Broadway, however, I have to wonder why. What is so special about this particular interpretation that is worth taking up theater space in New York and charging people $135 for a seat -- especially when we have the Public Theater's excellent (and free) Shakespeare in the Park presentations every summer?
Most of the time, the answer to those questions is pretty unsatisfying. Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad was a big disappointment (hence you will not be able to find it still playing....). Twelfth Night and Richard III have Mark Rylance as the star and that makes any play worth seeing (get over to the Belasco before, forsooth, they close in mid February). The Old Globe productions, presented by all male casts, as was the custom in Shakespeare's day, even give us a chance to see the actors on stage while they get into costume. Every high school English class should make a field trip. As productions of the plays, however, they aren't the best I have seen.
So now we have another Macbeth at Lincoln Center with Hawke reuniting with Director Jack O'Brien (Coast of Utopia, Henry IV) to play the nobleman who soon finds how hard it is to live with the consequences of choosing evil (even though Broadway had a mostly panned, one-man Macbeth just last season starring Alan Cumming).
Anne-Marie Duff makes her Broadway debut as a compelling Lady Macbeth, fully consumed by greed as she convinces her husband to murder King Duncan (Richard Easton) as well as the wife (Bianca Amato) and children of Macduff (Daniel Sunjata) to secure his place on the throne of Scotland. Brian D'Arcy James lends is a much needed bright spot as Macbeth's friend, Banquo. (If you don't know the rest of the story, maybe it's time to hit the classics -- or just break out the Sparks notes).
This stark Scotland (minimal set design by Scott Pask) is set somewhere in the past (Costume Designer Catherine Zuber outfits the actors in clothes that evoke the past with modern lines) on a black stage etched with pentagrams and other letters and symbols.
For some reason, the three witches are played by men (Malcolm Gets, John Glover and Byron Jennings). Why? Who knows? The trend to have female roles played by men for no apparent reason continues. My voice often seems the lone raised against it. In fact, O'Brien's production is heavy on the males anyway. At the party for Duncan, the attendees are all males....
But the witches (augmented by other swamp-like, demons) are supposed to be women -- at least one has prosthesis breasts in her swamp-like outfit and very deliberately walks around the thrust of the stage so the audience can see them hanging along with chest hair (this brought some laughter the day I attended. So did Banquo's question: "What are these so wither'd and so wild in their attire, that look not like the inhabitants o' the earth, and yet are on't?")
Why not just use women who actually have breasts? But I digress.... in fairness, Hecate (Francesca Faridany), queen of the witches gets some stage time and floats between being a witch and filling the role of a servant. Though why isn't clear. Perhaps I just got lost in the very neat fog and storm effects (Japhy Weideman, lighting design; Mark Bennett, original music and sound).
Hawke is pretty disappointing, spouting off lines routinely and without much emotion. We're not sure what feisty Lady Macbeth sees in him. Also very disappointing is the Birnam Wood scene (OK, the scene where the trees appear to be moving toward Macbeth's castle, as predicted by the witches, is my favorite in the play and I haven't seen too many convincing depictions). A bunch of guys shaking fake tree branches doesn't do it, even with added projections (Jeff Sugg).
My conclusion after two hours and 45 minutes: "Gee, I wish I could see Hartford Stage's really vibrant production again."
This one boils and toils at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th St., through Jan. 12. http://www.lct.org/.
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-- No content notes, but those demons and the etchings are a bit on the dark side.