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'Macbeth' at BAM: What Bloody Man is That?

I'll never think of Macbeth the same way again.

Rupert Goold's production of the play, currently sold out at BAM, is a mind-blowing experience.  His visionary adaptation, set in a semi-fascist, war-torn country, emphasizes the domesticity of the characters (Macduff brings his wife and kids along to meet Duncan; Lady Macbeth and her infirm-of-purpose husband argue over a cake in the kitchen while Duncan's partying in the offstage dining room; Ross is played as an ineffectual civil servant in contrast to the other more warlike Thanes), and still does not shy away from the frightening and visceral power of the events which catch them up.  From the first alarming moments of the play, with an extremely Bloody Captain trying to report from a hospital bed as he's tended by three severe nurses, it's a savage thrill ride.  For once in a production of Macbeth, I really felt as though the country was at war.

The entire production is staged in a spooky tiled area with metal tables, a refrigerator, and a hand-washing sink; it becomes a hospital, a kitchen, a morgue, what have you, with equal facility, sometimes aided by projections on the walls, especially in the supernatural scenes.  The three severe nurses are, of course, the witches: played by Sophie Hunter, Polly Frame, and Niamh McGrady, they eerily set the stage, appearing as needed.  So often lately I've seen witches who attempt to be "funny" or "sexy"- these three go for "crap-your-pants scary" and are clearly a force to be reckoned with, not to mention serious nightmare fuel.

The whole cast is wonderful-  led, of course, by venerable Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart in the titular role.  We're in mighty hands with him- the gentleman speaks the verse like no other, and his Macbeth is a believably insane presence onstage- spiraling out of control as he calls up powers he can't put down.  He is matched in intensity by the lovely and loony Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth- she stalks the stage like a puma in the early scenes, losing her grip as she descends into madness- her sleepwalking scene is gloriously powerful.  Suzanne Burden is a piteous Lady Macduff- a sweet and kind soccer mom out of her depth, unprepared for the calamities that befall.  Tim Treolar is very funny and effecting as Ross, equally out of his league surrounded by murder and war.  Michael Feast makes Macduff a real person- yes, a warrior, but one who needs a long moment to acknowledge the death of his family.  Martin Turner is a fine Banquo, and Paul Shelley is a great Duncan.  Christopher Patrick Nolan is a bizarre presence as Seyton (who is also the porter, in this production).  At times he seems kin to the witches himself- considering his name is pronounced here as a homophone for "Satan", perhaps that's not surprising.

Rupert Goold's direction is flawless.He has a clear vision and nothing onstage is neglected; when changes are made to the text, they illuminate the themes in wonderfully unexpected ways (e.g., Ross is actually tortured to reveal the information that Malcolm and Macduff have absconded to England* - making his later line to Lady Macduff "...But cruel are the times, when we are traitors and do not know ourselves" shine with sad irony).The production is not definitive, but it's absolutely unforgettable.

Michael Reidel recently reported in The New York Post that the production may transfer to a Broadway run soon- I hope so, more people should get to see this astounding work, and the BAM production is sold out.

* usually a tedious expository scene in which Ross doesn't even appear.

Macbeth
By William Shakespeare
Chichester Festival Theatre
Directed by Rupert Goold

Design by Anthony Ward 
Lighting design by Howard Harrison
Composed and sound design by Adam Cork
Video and projection design by Lorna Heavey

Movement director Georgina Lamb
Fight director Terry King

BAM Harvey Theater ( 651 Fulton St .)
Feb 19–23, 26–29, Mar 1, 4–8, 11–15, and 18–22 at 7:30pm;
Feb 16, 23, Mar 1, 8, 15, and 22 at 2pm;
Feb 17, 24, Mar 2, 9, and 16 at 3pm

Tickets: $30, $60, $90 (SOLD OUT)

718.636.4100 or BAM.org

BAMdialogue with Patrick Stewart
Moderated by Columbia University Professor James Shapiro
Feb 17, post-show (free for same-day ticket holders) 

Photos by Richard Termine

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From This Author - Duncan Pflaster