NEW YORK (AP) - What's black and white and red all over_ but mostly black?
The answer is the elegantly noir production of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" that opened Thursday night at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater, starring Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff as the murderously ambitious power-couple.
Director Jack O'Brien ("The Nance," "Dead Accounts") has set the Scottish tragedy amid appropriately dark, ominously towering walls, on a pitch-black stage engraved with a pentagram and other magical symbols that reflect the extensive presence of sorcery. Nightmarish lighting, discordant music and frequent haze envelop an excellent ensemble. Leathery battle costumes, elegant men's frock coats, and simple gowns for the few ladies present add a timeless air.
Duff, making a triumphant American debut, is an exquisite Lady Macbeth. Generally gowned in white, in contrast to her character's black soul, Duff expresses a range of emotions. She's initially taut and steel-spined as Lady Macbeth hectors her malleable husband into murdering their king, then gamely tries to cover for her unstable spouse during a sumptuously staged banquet. Duff subtly shows Lady Macbeth's triumph dissipating into unease and then despair, as she eventually gives in to madness, and eloquently utters the famous "out damn spot" cries before her character fades away into insanity and death.
Hawke, previously directed by O'Brien for Tony Award-nominated work in "The Coast of Utopia," gives an equally impassioned performance, although his Macbeth is modern, introspective and boyish. He drifts around the stage, waves his arms despairingly, and at one point even seems to lapse into a Southern accent.
While Hawke capably conveys Macbeth's inner torment and uneasiness with his crimes, his dialogue is occasionally mumbled or rushed, possibly due to his Macbeth-as-Everyman choice. He pulls out some gravitas after being crowned as king, and becomes credibly anguished when displaying Macbeth's growing insecurities and then guilt over his relentless, grisly betrayals.
Other compelling performances add brightness to the stream of dark deeds. John Glover, briefly humorous as the playful porter, is generally fierce as one of the three "weird sisters," and Francesca Faridany is majestic and intimidating as angry goddess Hecate. Brian d'Arcy James radiates nobility as Banquo, and Daniel Sunjata performs Macduff with gusto. Bianca Amato makes a brief, welcome appearance as the doomed Lady Macduff.
O'Brien's inventive staging encompasses aggressive choreography of strenuous battle enactments, along with darkly fanciful supernatural scenes. The all-male witch trio (Glover, Byron Jennings and Malcolm Gets) swirls around the stage, eerily flicking their hooded cloaks to assume a mortal guise and blend in everywhere.
Like the evil sprites that occasionally burst onstage from the underworld, those often-present witches are unsettling reminders of two things that intrigued Shakespeare and us to this day: the dark side that might catch spark inside anyone, and the inescapable consequences that usually ensue.
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