When I was a wee lad, in the fourth grade at ten years old, I was cast in my first play ever: the legendary Scottish Play, Macbeth.
I played the Mad Hatter. Okay, so it wasn’t just Macbeth… It was some sort of slash-fic school play that was a mish-mash of Alice In Wonderland and Macbeth. Yes, it’s as creepy as it sounds. Yes, I was ten. No, it was not my idea… But it was this play that ignited in me a life long love for the theater and acting, as well as presumably explaining why I’m so fucked up today.
Nevertheless, the Scottish Play has followed me my whole life… I played the title role for an English class, and Murderer #3 in high school drama (fellow Screwhead Pierce Nahigyan was Macduff, if memory serves). I have seen the videos of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in the role, as well as seen the Orange County Shakespeare’s version only a few months ago. So it’s fitting that, seventeen years after first being introduced to the Bard’s nihilistic masterpiece (I was fucking ten! Explains a lot, yes?) I took in my first ever Broadway show… The Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, directed by Jack O’Brien.
The Thane of Cawdor here was played by Ethan Hawke. So let’s talk about that first. I’m not sure this is a role he’s suited to, but it’s hard to get down on him because he’s earnestly trying to challenge himself here. He does bring his usual smoldering intensity to the role, which works, but overall he doesn’t really fit in with a cast of experienced Shakespearean actors. You underwhelm me, Ethan! But I still like you.
Next, we should discuss the Weird Sisters. When I see the play, it seems that their roles are the most open to interpretation. Shakespeare himself leaves it ambiguous as to who or what they are- varying interpretations have them as the Norns, Macbeth’s own demons, or just regular evil magic bitches- and so the various productions give various interpretations of them as well. When I saw the Orange County production, they were gothic ravers, which was terrible. In Patrick Stewart’s version, they are interpreted as combat nurses who practically rap their “double double toil and trouble” speech.
Here, they are played by Byron Jennings, John Glover and Malcolm Gets: you will take note of the fact that these are all dudes. So, right there, we differ from (recent) tradition; the production makes up for it by including the Witches’ master Hecate, played by Francesca Faridany. Hecate is almost always cut from productions of this play because most experts believe her lines were added later and not written by William Shakespeare at all. The play has been rendered very witch heavy, with each witch playing other roles… My favorite being John “Lionel Luthor” Glover, who gets to play the Porter of Hellgate, and deliver the biggest comic relief of the play (and talk about alcohol and its effect on human dicks. I was ten! I love Shakespeare.)
As to the visuals, well, that’s why you watch Broadway shows… They have a lot of money. The set moves but is based around John Dee’s “The Seal of God’s Truth,” playing up the occult elements of the story. The set rotates and shifts to move us from one location to the next and project’s Macbeth’s twisted visions as large holograms wrought behind him in surreal images.
The physicality is impressive, with Ethan Hawke fighting mo fos with his twin swords like some kind of crouching tiger (or perhaps a hidden dragon).
Ultimately, I found this version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to be a solid but uneven effort, but a worthy first show to introduce me to Broadway.