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Paulanne Simmons

Shakespeare Shines Brighter than Gold in "Macbeth"

Directed by Sam Gold
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48 Street
Opened April 28, 2022
Running for 15 weeks
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 29, 2022

Cast of "Macbeth." Photo by Joan Marcus.

If, while sitting in Longacre theater, you closed your eyes during most of Sam Gold’s "Macbeth," you would experience a pretty traditional presentation of the tragedy, with Daniel Craig a very good Macbeth and Ruth Negga an exceptional Lady Macbeth. If you opened your eyes, you would ask yourself where is this play set, what year is it, what are those three actors cooking?

Scenic designer Christine Jones’s stage is filled with blood, fog, colored lights, shadows and various lighting effects. Sometimes we know we are indoors. In an apartment? In a suburban home? Sometimes we are outdoors. On a heath? Near a cliff? The costumes are vaguely modern. Are these people royal? Middle class?

There’s nothing wrong with this jumble of elements or even the graphic violence. The problem is we have no idea what they are trying to tell us. Is there a central idea? A hidden connection?

Often it seems as if the design elements in the play were assembled by a bunch of frat brothers planning a party: “Hey how about a red light over the bar?” “Sure.” “What do you think of some dude walking around with a fog machine?” “Great idea.”

The cast is racially diverse. Banquo is played by a woman, the very capable Amber Gray. In fact, Sam Gold seems to be telling us a lot more about what’s acceptable in the 21st century theater than what Shakespeare meant to tell us about Elizabethan theater, revenge plays or the nature of humanity.

Nevertheless, there are many very effective moments in the production. Grantham Coleman makes Macduff’s emotional response to his wife and children’s murder a heartrending contrast to Macbeth’s “She should have died hereafter” after hearing of Lady Macbeth’s suicide. And Negga, deliciously vicious as the overly ambitious Lady Macbeth, still makes us recoil in horror when she obsessively rubs her hands, lamenting, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Then comes the ending. Just when we think Macduff is going to give Macbeth the coup de grace, he slides down against the blood-spattered wall, followed by Macbeth and the rest of the cast. Soon they’re all slurping soup. At last, we know what the Weird Sisters have been cooking! And Bobbi MacKenzie sings a song that could have been written by Joni Mitchell.

So, "Macbeth" is not a tragedy after all. One wonders what Shakespeare might have to say about that.

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