On Wednesday I drove out to Red Bank, New Jersey, the home of Edmund Wilson and Count Basie to see a production of Macbeth, to which most of today’s Wall Street Journal drama column is devoted. I also make brief but favorable mention of Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Trojan Women. Here’s a sample.
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Abraham Lincoln, who knew a thing or two about writing, esteemed “Macbeth” above all other plays. “I think nothing equals ‘Macbeth,'” he said. “It is wonderful.” It’s also concise–Shakespeare never penned a shorter tragedy–and full of supernatural skullduggery and R-rated violence. The words “blood,” “bloody” and “bloodier” are used 36 times in the text. It is, in short, the perfect Shakespeare play for those who’ve never seen one, and Two River Theater Company’s new production might have been made for such folk. Jointly staged by Aaron Posner, the company’s artistic director, and Teller, the magician with the single-barreled name who lets his partner, Penn Jillette, do the talking, Two River’s “Macbeth” is a spook show that sheds almost as much blood as Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd,” and does so with equally thrilling results.
Yes, there’s plenty of stage trickery in this “Macbeth,” but that isn’t the main reason to see it. Between them, Mr. Posner and Mr. Teller have given us a production whose flamboyant theatricality is matched by its colloquial directness. The pace is brisk–several scenes are made to overlap with one another–and the staging sharply detailed without lapsing into fussiness. Atmospheric lighting, evocative music, believable swordplay: All are used not merely for their own sake but to give Shakespeare’s poetry the explosive and overwhelming effect of a truck bomb.
Time and again individual lines and whole speeches are illuminated by action so appropriate that you’ll sit up and catch your breath. “I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hack’d,” Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes) says, then flashes a sickly grin that gives away the fear he feels inside. A messenger tells Macduff (Cody Nickell) that his family has been murdered in cold blood, then puts his hand over his mouth in shock. “My wife kill’d too?” Macduff asks in reply, clasping his hands tightly behind his back as if to hold himself together. A little later another messenger informs Macbeth that his own wife (Kate Eastwood Norris) has committed suicide, and he grabs the man’s bloody hand and smears her gore on his cheek….
Speaking of graphic violence, Classical Theatre of Harlem and Harlem Stage have collaborated on an updated version of Euripides’ “Trojan Women” set in the ruins of a Manhattan train station that incorporates first-hand testimony from survivors of the atrocities committed in the recent civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Staged and freely adapted by Alfred Preisser and mounted in the attractive new performance space that has been carved out of the Harlem Gatehouse, which once served as a pumping station, it clocks in at 75 minutes flat. The chorus is uneven, but Mr. Preisser’s adaptation is a potent brew of timeless tragedy and modern brutality…
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Read the whole thing here.