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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Macbeth starring Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff

I went to see Macbeth starring Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater.
It was very good show, but rather uneven.
If you are in or near New York City, I recommend it.
The production runs until 12 January, 2014. You can get more information and tickets here:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would like to share some of my thoughts about this production.
I was excited to see this because it is directed by Jack O’Brien, famous for having produced and directed many shows, including the original Broadway production of Hairspray. He has directed several of Shakespeare’s plays before, and he was the Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California. He is also working on a new musical about Harry Houdini, starring Hugh Jackman.

Brian d'Arcy James as Banquo and Ethan Hawke

I was also excited because I had never seen Ethan Hawke on stage before. I like his work in film, such as Gattaca, Training Day and especially the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight series of films. I liked him as Hamlet, and I saw him in the Shakespeare Uncovered documentary -- both of which I should probably write about here on the blog sooner than later.

Anne-Marie Duff

But the chance to see Anne-Marie Duff on stage was what excited me the most. She is a spectacular actress and I couldn’t wait to see her as Lady Macbeth. 
She played John Lennon ‘s mother in the terrific film Nowhere Boy. Her performance will break your heart.
She played Queen Elizabeth I in the TV series The Virgin Queen, and it is the very best portrayal of Elizabeth I have ever seen. Truly incredible and brave acting. 

Anne-Marie Duff as Queen Elizabeth in The Virgin Queen

So, with this talented team, I was very eager to see the play.
Unfortunately, it was not as good as I had hoped. It was not bad, and I do think you should go see it. It is worth seeing.
But the production was too restrained. It was too polite.
Please understand me, I don’t need to see a Macbeth where the stage is soaked with blood to enjoy it. 
But what I do expect to see is a Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who are driven insane by their ambition and the evil forces surrounding them, and who commit acts of bloody murder. 
Mr. Hawke certainly looks like a Macbeth, and he seems very comfortable on stage. But his transformation from an ambitious man to a monster is not very convincing. He seemed tentative and too cautious.
I would like to see him in more Shakespeare, and I hope it is something that he continues to do for the rest of his career.
Ms. Duff also seemed to portray Lady Macbeth too cautiously, as if she had not committed to the role entirely yet. She is a very intelligent actress, and makes very good choices in her performances. But the role of Lady Macbeth demands more than just intelligence. It demands everything from the actress who portrays her.
Lady Macbeth reminds me of the role of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. It is an impossibly demanding role for an actress, and any actress who aspires to perform Blanche does so at her great peril.
Ms. Duff seemed to have kept that peril at an arm’s distance. 
I have to think that the size of the Vivian Beaumont Theater, which is very large, did not help. It seemed to swallow the play and players. It made the actors seem small.
It also seemed to me that Mr. Hawke’s voice was hoarser than I expected, and Ms. Duff seemed to strain her voice to be heard in the large theater.

Daniel Sunjata as Macduff

The rest of the cast was quite good. I especially liked Daniel Sunjata as Macduff. He is a very good actor, and he should definitely do more Shakespeare. I think he would be an excellent Coriolanus.
But the biggest surprise of the play was John Glover. He played one of the Witches and he also played the Porter.

Malcolm Gets, John Glover and Byron Jennings as the Three Witches

As a Witch, he was dressed in a very provocative way that helped to underscore the gender-bending nature of the weird sisters.
As the Porter, he was truly brilliant. He was so unexpectedly funny and so perfect. He played up the fact that Shakespeare is thought to have invented the “Knock Knock” joke, and he involved the audience in a way that is unforgettably funny.
Here was a performance that was not tentative and threw caution to the wind.
The entire production would benefit from more of this kind of energy.
I have to think that John Glover’s ease with Shakespeare may be ancestral. After all, Shakespeare was an apprentice to his father, who was a glove-maker. Perhaps their families knew each other!
Overall, the play was entertaining, and I do recommend it. 
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