nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 12, 2005
The way that director Michael Hagins begins his Sopranos-inflected production of Macbeth is pretty cool. Three "Weird Sisters"—a prostitute, a drug addict, and a homeless woman—roam around the theatre and then alight in front of the stage near a trash can. Almost immediately, a small but important-looking procession marches past them—Duncan, "King" (or, in this context, kingpin) of Scotland, a magisterial bejeweled man who seems very much the Godfather; accompanying him are bodyguards and a messenger who brings word of the recent victories of his henchmen Macbeth and Banquo, and also of the treachery of another underling, the Thane of Cawdor. Duncan tells the gathering—which includes the three eavesdropping Sisters—that he will reward Macbeth by awarding Cawdor's dominions to him.
What I loved about this, besides the fairly canny contemporary contextualizing of the story that Hagins provides with the mafia metaphor, is the way that it makes the Sisters a little more accessible to a wary modern audience. How do they know about Macbeth's sudden good fortune (which they will relate to him as prophesy in the next scene)? Because they overheard it!
Hagins finds ways throughout, both more and less successful than this, to frame Shakespeare's famous play as a story of mobsters gone awry. Overall, the production is entertaining and effective.
Another of Hagins's inspired ideas is to put all the members of his ensemble into identical ghoulish masks, allowing them to serve as a massively frightful apparition when Macbeth seeks the advice of the Weird Sisters for a second time. But double-casting of roles is less successful elsewhere, as when the actor playing the assassin hired by Macbeth to ambush Banquo immediately seats himself, without changing his appearance in any way, at Macbeth's table as the nobleman Seyton—a confusing moment, even for those familiar with the play.
The climactic fight sequence is played with baseball bats—not a great choice, especially in a venue as intimate as the Impact Theatre (I feared for the actors' safety throughout the battle, and my companion told me afterward that he feared for his own as well). I was hoping that Hagins would have his Macbeth and Macduff engage in a shootout, using the pistols perpetually tucked into their waistbands as their weapons of choice.
The acting skills of the ensemble cover a very wide range; some of the ensemble members are clearly less sure of themselves than others when it comes to tackling Shakespeare's language or showing, rather than telling, the emotional state of their characters. Nevertheless there's not a moment that's unwatchable and indeed, thanks to Hagins's brisk pacing and shrewd, liberal editing of the play, this Macbeth moves nice and fast. It should prove a great learning experience for all on stage.
As Macbeth, Michael Criscuolo does an outstanding job, delivering the verse (especially the soliloquies and monologues) with real verve; he gives us a man governed by entitlement more than ambition—it's only as things start to go terribly wrong near the end of the play that he begins to understand that it is this tragedy, rather than unchecked power over his fellows, that is his actual due.
Gyda Arber is a youthful, sensual Lady Macbeth—seducing rather than dominating her mate into committing murder to acquire and then solidify his kingdom. Arber's vocal technique is less assured than Criscuolo's, but she's got just as much of a fix on her character as he does; her reading of the famous sleepwalking sequence near the end of the play is eerily convincing.
Others in the company whose work stands out include Robyn Berg as Lady Macduff and one of the Weird Sisters, Synge Maher as the Porter, Clark Main as Seyton/First Assassin, Christopher L. McAllister as Duncan, and Jamie Effros as Malcolm.
I enjoyed myself at this production, and not just because it offered the chance to see two of nytheatre.com's own (see disclaimer just above this review) trodding the boards. Hagins is a young director with smart, interesting ideas about how to make Shakespeare resonate with a contemporary urban audience. I will be interested in seeing what he comes up with next.