I was interviewing a potential lawyer today and we got on the subject of Shakespeare. This wasn't some attempt by me to drag some innocent lawyer into my lair of arts talk. She included it on her resume (She's seen 15 productions of Shakespeare! I guess for a lawyer she thinks that's a lot and that by saying it on her resume it will make her come across as well-read. Lawyers amuse me.). So I mentioned Sleep No More to her and then I said apropos of nothing that I've never seen a good production of Macbeth.
And I started to wonder if it was me or was it Macbeth.
I saw some pretty horrific productions in regional theater in high school. I do recall a bloody head being rolled across the stage like a bowling ball in one production and the other production using trash can covers for shields (no it was not set in a post-modern urban wasteland--I think it was budgetary). Nothing worse than having to get on a yellow cheese bus to drive to New Hampshire to see Macbeth in the rain and for it to suck balls and then have to get back in the hot and sweaty cheese bus to drive back home again.
In more recent years I saw Rupert Goold's production with Patrick Stewart. I saw Cheek by Jowl's production at BAM. And I saw Sleep No More. I missed Kelsey Grammer's production (and I am pretty sure that is ok) and I never saw Liev Schrieber's Pubic Theater production (maybe a big mistake but life got away from me in 2006).
What Sleep No More made me think was that a boiled down Macbeth might be what I want. Just give me witches, prophecy, dead person, dead person, guilt, knives, ghosts, Birnam Wood, and carnage and SCENE. All those goods are in there right? Of course, Sleep No More wasn't quite like that.
There were moments in Sleep No More that were riveting. Febrile sequences of chasing ghosts down stairways who would simply vanish. It was like a dream that had come to life. Heart racing, feet pounding on the steps...electric. And then there were moments of boredom. " I'm here in this room....Do I wait for something?... Does anything happen here?... Hello.... My mask is sweaty.... My glasses are foggy.... Don't shush me I am not talking."
I loved being able to interact with the space. Mad props to the scenic design team. Texture, smells, everything was so specific and so rich. I guess that's why when I experienced the actual "performances" I was a little let down. Ok, more naked people. Sure. Wash those hands. Yup. Birnam Woods. Banquet scene. Gotcha. Often I felt the connection to Macbeth in the performances was strained (Lip-syncing, gender-bending what now?). That said, I am glad I saw it.
The Goold production was set in a cold morgue like room. This production setting referenced Fascism. But the period choices didn't feel resonant or cohesive to the story. My recollection was I liked the projections but not much else. I was disappointed because I craved a good Macbeth.
I completely fell asleep during the Cheek by Jowl production. Visually it was stripped down with the actors addressing the audience rather than each other. I didn't feel the power of this directing choice and in fact it came across as disconnected to me. Macbeth was kinda a whiny bitch from the get-go. I loved the odd choices for the porter--crass, contemporary, lively. Now I know how the groundlings felt...desperate for some comic relief. At least THAT delivered.
So is it the play or the productions. Did I miss the best one ever with Liev? Has someone seen a Macbeth that they truly loved?
I've seen a great Hamlet (Mark Rylance at the ART in 1991--don't get me started--might have been the apex of my theater-going life--sad to peak so early--wahwah). I've seen some decent Hamlets (Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law had his moments but I'd take him naked in Indiscretions any day over his Hamlet). I dug Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center (1998--wow that was a while ago. But look at the cast! I remember loving the supporting cast so much). I've seen a couple of fun Much Ado-s in my day. So I like Shakespeare and I have enjoyed Shakespeare. So what the fuck is up with Macbeth.
I don't have an answer. But I challenge you theater people to produce a fucking fantastic Macbeth. Show his journey from solider to killer to king/simpering baby. Do it and I will inevitably buy a ticket. Or I guess take me back in time to 2006 so I can check out Liev.
I would totally support a time machine to remedy all my theater regret.