Macbeth: It’s No Hamlet

Macbeth, at the Lyceum Theatre, New York. Tickets at

If you haven’t read Macbeth, this is your show. If you haven’t seen Macbeth, this is your show. If you’re a fan of Macbeth, this may also be your show. It’s big, it’s accessible, it’s well-done from casting to staging and it’s original enough that it’ll keep you interested.

It’s set in the first half of the last century in a chilly basement, so no moors and highland mania. The institutional staging is excellently suited to all the blood: dingy white tile and metal furniture on wheels. (The sink downstage stays put, which is just as well given the aforementioned blood.) The tile provides a backdrop for projections of bloody smoke and the forest, among other things. Nice work there. Less so with the extreme sound effects. They are so jacked up that they lose whatever original effect they might have had and register only as, “Goddamn that’s loud.”

Lady Macbeth wears those silky bias-cut dresses that only women with no thighs can rock and her sexy ambition is a convincing reading of the pushy missus. Patrick Stewart is a solid thane and king and does not tug his jacket down once. I appreciate that his Macbeth unravels with sanity. Macbeth is too-often wild-eyed and wild-haired (not an issue with Stewart, needless to say), as if he were not the maker of his own demise. The wilder Macbeths are sexier but Stewart’s makes more sense. The witches are standouts, creepily decked out as nurses, white whimples and grey dresses and all. Their sinister incantations are all the creepier for the saintly uniforms and their handling of the ill and injured and, finally, the dead.

It is big and bloody. It is timely. (Macbeth is a Shakesperean for the Bush age – blood and torture and ambition in the face of clear error.) It is all the things I hope Shakespeare will be. It will draw new fans; it explicates the play. Why, then, was I unmoved? Why did I check my watch every fifteen minutes? Why did I leave with the feeling that I did the right thing but did not enjoy doing it?. After thinking about it for a while, I don’t think it’s the production. I think it’s Macbeth. I’m just not that into him.

As I tried to pin down why, something I’ve noticed in corporations came to mind: the skillsets that make a good worker are not the same set that make a good manager. Good workers get promoted to management because it’s the natural next step up the corporate ladder. They fail because they are unsuited for the role – a role for which they were not hired.

So goes Macbeth. Suited for the battlefield, he brings only battle skills to his promotion, with predictable results. I prefer my heroes paralyzed with misgivings (Hamlet) or evil but clever (Richard III). There’s more drama in their predicaments, more suspense. Macbeth is tragic but not that interesting because the deterioration is so predictable. Given the choice, I’ll go for a story whose ending is less obvious, a story whose progress is less foreordained. This is probably the same reason I’ve never enjoyed the Greek plays much either. Where there is choice, there is agony but where there is no choice, there’s also less interest for me. Macbeth feels to me like a particularly brutal children’s story, a cautionary tale about what will happen when you overreach…or slaughter kings and kids…or listen to witches and your wife…no, wait, that’s not it. Just witches. Which I wasn’t going to do anyway. So I’m in the clear.

Now that I’ve sorted that out, I’m still sticking with my recommendation: if you’re ever going to see Macbeth, see this one. Also, don’t kill your boss. Or children.

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Categories: NYC (there), Watch This


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2 Comments on “Macbeth: It’s No Hamlet”

  1. Rita Felciano
    June 1, 2008 at 12:35 pm #

    This was well written, detailed and committed and so much fun to read. Where do you find the energy?

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