Monday, March 28, 2016

Berkeley Rep - Macbeth

Lady Macbeth
Didn't I just review Macbeth? Indeed I did, but that was the recent movie version starring Michael Fassbender. I also got to see Berkeley Rep's production yesterday, so here's what I thought about that one.

Overall, I thought it was really good. It's a bit hard for me to evaluate this play, I realized, because I know it so well after having taught it for so many years. I constantly find myself anticipating lines and even thinking which act and scene we happen to be on at any given moment. Still, I found myself getting lost in the story, and this really zipped by. (The entire show was over two hours, which is actually one of Shakespeare's shorter plays.) My wife agreed, and she really liked it a lot. The two ladies sitting next to us seemed to enjoy it too, and I got a chance to talk to them a bit about the play when one of them said to me after the show, "You seem to know a lot about this play." (She overheard some of my comments to my wife during the intermission.) So, I answered some of their questions and got to give a bit of subtext and some of my own interpretation of what's going on.

It was a pretty straightforward telling of the story, keeping the historical setting (anachronisms and all). It made good use of Berkeley Rep's stage and even incorporated some video during the scene where the apparitions deliver their prophecies to Macbeth, but other than that, there was no modern twist. That's neither good nor bad, but I figure worth noting. And while I don't necessarily have the play memorized line-by-line, I know it well enough to know that they really didn't cut out a whole lot. Little bits were trimmed here and there, but it had every scene - minus that one with Hecate that Shakespeare probably didn't even write.

One particular wise move that I caught was when Macduff asks Ross to not hold back the truth in the fourth act. The actual line is, "Be not a niggard of your speech." They changed it to "Be not a miser of your speech." That's pretty smart considering that: 1, most people don't know the word "niggard" and don't know that it has no connection to the word "nigger" aside from an unfortunate homophonic coincidence; and 2. both Macduff and Ross were played by black men. Sure, Shakespeare nerds like myself would know that nothing racial was said, but much of the audience would no doubt get distracted by that and taken completely out of a colorblind interpretation where black men can be thanes of Medieval Scotland.

Here's what I thought of the key players in the production:

Conleth Hill as Macbeth - I definitely got to see something here that I haven't seen before. He was actually a pretty jovial guy, which might seem like an odd choice, but Hill was able to also fill him with a nervous sort of energy at the same time. It was like his jolly nature was a cover for the dark thoughts that were constantly percolating deep within him. I did feel like some of his lines toward the end felt more recited than acted, but overall it was a really good performance and he created a believable dramatic arc.

Macbeth, the witches, and an apparition
Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth - She was one of the main reasons why my wife and I wanted to see the show, and I'm pleased to say that she did the entire part in her Fargo accent. Nah, just kidding. She was great, of course. McDormand didn't do anything surprising or risky with the performance, but it was still one of the best parts of the play. The one thing that I did like, which might not have been entirely her but part of a collaboration, was how her madness seemed to stem from the fact that her husband was shutting her out of his plans once the first murder was complete.

Korey Jackson as Macduff - This is an important part to get right. Obviously, Macduff is key to the plot, but you also need to have somebody who contrasts sharply with Macbeth. I don't know if the choice was deliberate, but I love the fact that he wore a red cape throughout the story, which might make a modern audience think of a superhero. Because in many ways, that's what Macduff is. If you ever watch some of those old episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, the story will follow the villain's fall from grace, and then it's up to Batman to come in and stop him (or her). That's Macduff's purpose here as well, and he should carry a certain nobility and sense of decency about him. Jackson was the right choice if that's what they were going for.

Honestly, there wasn't a weak link in the entire production. It was cool seeing a lot of familiar faces from Calshakes as well, and these actors always deliver. Was it cool to see some big-name celebrities? Sure, but everybody else was up to the same level.

1 comment:

Hartmut Heider said...

Frances McDormand in her Fargo accent. Funny. Great that you get to see that.