Audiences may be understandably confused as they enter the Longacre Theater to see the new Broadway production of macbeth featuring Daniel Craig and Ruth Nega. The stage is devoid of scenery, with the back wall of the theater exposed. The actors, dressed in street clothes, crowd the stage, a few preparing a meal at one end. Backstage, more of them are standing around, chatting amiably. If you look closely, you can see Craig hugging one of them, whispering encouragement in his ear. Surely we ventured into a dress rehearsal by mistake?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question would be no. Instead, we’re here to witness the incredibly inconsistent director’s latest attempt Sam Gold to breathe new life into a classic piece. Perhaps we should have relied on the marketing of the production, which highlights the names of the stars and the director while that of Shakespeare is nowhere to be found. In retrospect, that seems fitting, because it’s so much more about Sam Gold. macbeth than that of the bard.
Before the play begins, we are treated to a folkloric introduction by actor Michael Patrick Thornton, who plays Lennox. He provides general information about the work we’re about to see, dropping his name in the process. “Oh, I guess I’m not supposed to say that,” he says shyly, referring to the “Scottish Play” curse, supposedly inflicted by witches, which promises disaster to anyone who dares to speak the name of the play in a theatre. Thornton then ups the ante by inviting us all to quietly repeat the title aloud as well, a request the audience mischievously complies with.
If the director’s intention was to prove that the curse is alive and well, he succeeds perfectly. Forget that the production was forced to cancel several performances because several of its actors, including Craig, tested positive for COVID. This unfortunate reality has plagued many shows since the theater resumed. It is rather than that macbeth turns out to be so spectacularly poorly designed and inefficient that you can practically hear witches cackling in the background. And I’m not talking about those who are on stage.
It would be wrong to say that the production suffers from an excess of bad ideas, because there are no ideas to be found. If anything, it’s as if the director gathered his admirably diverse cast and told them to toss around some concepts and let him know what they came up with. Any audience member who doesn’t know the play intimately may come away thinking that this type of Shakespeare is seriously overrated.
Speaking of overrated, maybe it’s time to add gold to the list. Although he has done a superb job with new works such as fun house, The film and A dollhouse, part 2, his record with the classics, especially Shakespeare, leaves much to be desired. Although he delivered a tense and propulsive staging of othello in a production also starring Craig a few years ago, his productions of Hamletwith Oscar Isaac, and King Lear, with Glenda Jackson in the title role, were widely considered disasters. This latest effort falls squarely into the latter camp.
macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest and least complex plays, but you wouldn’t know it from this seemingly endless production. A program insert provides a plot synopsis and a guide to the characters the actors play, which comes in handy as almost all of them double and triple their roles to utterly confusing effect. Don’t seek help from the generic costumes, which suggest not so much a “modern dress” as “whatever the performers fancy wearing.” A note from the production’s two playwrights informs us that “the simplicity and flexibility of this production, in which the language of the play carries most of the narrative and expressive weight, allows for a high level of imaginative participation.”
It’s a nice theory, assuming the actors are able to shoulder that expressive weight with their delivery of language. This is not the case, unfortunately. On paper, the casting of the two protagonists seemed obvious. Craig delivered a superb muscular performance as Iago in Gold’s othello, and Negga proved fascinating with her flamboyant take on Hamlet in a production seen at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s warehouse just before the pandemic. Both seem at sea here. Craig’s Macbeth mostly comes across as having a mildly awkward midlife crisis, and while he speaks the language effectively, he displays little emotional connection to words. When delivering the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy, the phrase “the sound and the fury mean nothing” never seemed more apt. Negga conveys little of her character’s ferocity and mad ambition, looking more like a ticked-off woman who is I had so far with her husband watching TV from the sofa.
The support players don’t fare much better, although that might not be their fault since many of them have done a terrific job in the past. Paul Lazar is a less than royal Duncan King, so his reappearance as a Porter after Duncan’s death isn’t very long. Stripping out of his bulky suit and wearing only his underwear, he pretends to be stuck in front of the lowered curtain and mutters “Oh shit,” a sentiment the audience can wholeheartedly agree with.
Asia Kate Dillon, so convincing in their tight turn in Showtime Billions, makes little impression as Malcolm, save for a mop of bright purple hair. Of the rest, only Amber Gray (Hadesville) as the feminized Banquo and Grantham Coleman as the Macduff manage to distinguish themselves.
To create a sufficiently disturbing atmosphere, many actors walk around with portable smoke machines, which prove to be terribly ineffective because we are still able to discern what is happening on stage. Gold also relies heavily on Gaelynn Lea’s horror-movie-style music for chilling effect, although the screaming chords as Macbeth stabs Duncan to death only make us wish we were watching. psychology Instead. After committing one of his murderous acts, a celebratory Macbeth opens a can of beer (light, of course; you don’t get that James Bond physique drinking the regular stuff), one of many anachronistic touches which just seem silly. But well, what macbeth without a few laughs?
There is hardly any decor on stage (it would have been so bourgeois), with the exception of a few armchairs for the Macbeths indicating that the Scottish Royals shop at Design Within Reach. The suit is particularly atrocious, with Craig forced to wear a green velvet blazer that looks like he’s about to burst into a rendition of “Volare” and a plush winter coat that suggests less Thane. of Cawdor than a self-satisfied pimp. In one of his many costume changes, Negga dons a 60s-style layered dress that Charo allegedly deemed too tacky.
At the end of the play, the performers sit on stage, pass around bowls of food, and happily proceed to a light meal as if exhausted from their exertions. But if anyone needs a reward after this nerve-wracking production, it’s the audience.
Venue: Longacre Theatre, New York
With: Daniel Craig, Ruth Negga, Che Ayende, Phillip James Brannon, Lizzy Brooks, Jared Canfield, Grantham Coleman, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Asia Kate Dillon, Maria Dizzia, Ronald Emile, Eboni Flowers, Amber Grey, Emeka Guindo, Paul Lazar, Bobbi Mackenzie, Peter Smith, Michael Patrick Thornton, Danny Wolohan
Director: Sam Gold
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Executive producer: Patrick Daly
Scenographer: Christine Jones
Costume designer: Suttirat Larlarb
Lighting designer: Jane Cox
Sound engineer: Mikaas Sulaiman
Original music: Gaelynn Lea
Presented by Barbara Broccoli, The Shubert Organization, Michael G. Wilson, Frederick Zollo, Christian Anderson, Keith Anderson, Brian Carmody, Patrick Milling-Smith, No Guarantees, Brian Anthony Moreland, Annapurna Theatre, Berdel Productions, Bob Boyett, Caledonia Productions, Empire Street Productions, Jeffrey Finn, John Gore Organization, Mini Cooper, James L. Nederland, RDR Productions, Daryl Roth, Orin Wolf