Given the preponderance of Shakespeare productions in major playhouses on both sides of Atlantic (and the presentation of those as special events at the cinema) as well as film adaptations of the canon – all of which have the resources to engage in world-building – it is left to the smaller theatre companies to focus on the internal lives of the characters. This is a fine and worthy mission indeed, and that is the course taken by Hudson Theater Works with its production of Macbeth at the Woodrow Wilson School in Weehawken.
The play needs no introduction here. One of its most powerful themes – that of overweening ambition – has markedly modern resonance, especially close to a metropolitan center where fortunes and political careers are built upon such ambition. Though the play is set in a dark age of Scotland when Christianity’s hold on the population is far from a sure thing, where the appearances of witches is far from surprising, and power comes from the sword rather than law and tradition, director Frank Licato’s concerns are on the contemporary moment. Times and technology may change, but ambition is still the destroyer.
Kevin Cristaldi and Daniela Mastropietro as Macbeth and his Lady embrace the complexity, offering up nuanced Shakespearean performances while still channeling a more modern vision of the roles. They first appear as that accomplished, tasteful, and, above all, nice professional couple. Yet, when opportunity presents itself, they abandon all morals and ethics and pursue their ambitions to the detriment of all, including themselves. The yuppie veneer of respectability is just that – they are hollow to the core. Cristaldi’s Macbeth whispers rather than bellows (think Pacino’s turn as the corporatized mobster in the second Godfather); his weapons is less a bludgeon and more a scalpel. His existential exhaustion come Act V is a refreshing and right choice. Mastropietro too reveals how Lady Macbeth is surprised (but not nearly enough) as she takes each harrowing step away from humanity into her own lust for power. When she realizes at the end of Act I that she would have murdered her own baby to satisfy her own bleak desires, she takes away everyone’s breath, including her own.
Brendan Walsh and Peter Collier as MacDuff and Malcolm make worthy adversaries. Shakespeare works not in binary oppositions but in trinary oppositions. Think Hamlet, Laertes, and Fortinbras. Often Malcolm gets lost in the crush between Macbeth’s murderous rampages and MacDuff’s need for violent retribution. But important in there too is Malcolm, and Licato wisely refrains from cutting their scene in England when they plot Macbeth’s overthrow (and MacDuff learns of the loss of his family). As played, these two men do not necessarily like each other all that much, but they form an alliance anyway to destroy a shared enemy. Collier in particular crafts a tougher-than-usual Malcolm, informed from his experience playing Henry V. The troubles that afflict Scotland will not end with Macbeth’s death. It will be difficult for either men to defeat the other, and the civil wars will continue. Licato emphasizes that cycle of violence with the return of the witches who repeat the opening lines of the play.
For a Macbeth that is very much part of our world, check out Hudson Theater Works production.
Details can be found here: http://www.hudsontheatreworks.com