Only now and then are great plays greatly played. Macbeth, one of Shakespeare's masterpieces is so outrageously difficult to act that it is seldom produced. When it is it often comes off poorly like Kelsey Grammer's Broadway attempt a few years back , and the recent Shakespeare-in-the-Park production which starred Liev Schreiber. The best staging I have seen has been the Royal Shakespeare Company's production with Antony Sher and Harriet Waters which they brought to New Haven's Long Wharf Theater in June of 2000.
Now from the Chichester Festival Theater and a sold out London run a new Macbeth has arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) where it has been brilliantly staged and is being stunningly acted by Patrick Stewart and a stage full of fine players.
The thirty-five year-old director Rupert Goold has set this Macbeth during the 1950's Cold War period in a Stalin-like run Russian state. The decor is a stark white tiled basement bunker, which we first see as a morgue, and later as Macbeth's kitchen where the couple plot their forays subsequently this unit set adapts to serve as all the other locations of the play.
Although the conception is Mr. Goolds - very gory, dark and jazzed up by multimedia and video effects - the glory of this Macbeth is Mr. Stewart. At 67 he is not a youngster anymore, yet none of his acting skills have diminished. He makes a fit and handsome Macbeth, assured with the trim bearing of a commander, and still filled with the desired late life dream to be king. He is ardent with Lady Macbeth, the superlative Kate Fleetwood, who gives a petrifying performance as his much younger lethally ambitious trophy wife.
Mr. Stewart has a strong and melodious voice which gets all the grandeur of Shakespeare's language. He speaks the soliloquies, such as the great Is this a dagger which I see before me perfectly with all its full dramatic effect. Mr. Stewart and director Goold strive to give us Macbeth as the complete man. In an early scene he is gracious with King Duncan (Paul Shelley ). After Duncan's murder he stares with horror at his bloody hands. Later his voice ranges from a whisper with the paid assassin of Banquo (Martin Turner ) to a howl of utter terror at the sight of Banquo's ghost which ends act one. Mr. Goold daringly repeats the scene from a different perspective at the top of act two with great theatrical effect.
Towards the play's end, in the great speech that follows the news of Lady Macbeth's death, Mr. Stewart gets all the wariness and emptiness of the man as he utters the magnificent, Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow lines. When everything begins to fall apart he makes the transition from Macbeth's raging evilness to his penultimate apathy. All of Macbeth's iniquitous mind, heart, and soul are in Mr. Stewart's performance.Mr. Goold slows down act two by adding two entertaining but superfluous musical sequences: a Russian folk dance and a cabaret song. In a later scene in which Malcolm (Scott Handy ) is testing Macduff's (Michael Feast) loyalty also seemed to slow down the action. But these are minor quibbles, all the rest in this production of Shakespeare's great play is towering.