Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth with their little stillborn demon child

October 1st, 2009

Macbeth is appropriate to autumn and October. Macbeth’s colors are red and black; the poetry evokes the lengthening of nights and shortening days; and it’s full of witches and ghosts. Pecfect for the month of Halloween! I went with Lesterhead to see Strike Anywhere and ANITYA’s joint production of “Macbeth Variations II” at the Irondale Center in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church on Lafayette and South Oxford St. in Fort Greene tonight. The production definitely set the mood for a spooky October.

There are a few things you might want to know before you go see the play. First, Strike Anywhere and ANITYA are based in New York and Paris respectively. It is performed in both English and French. Unfortunately the Irondale Center, unlike the Met, doesn’t provide subtitles in glowing green LED in the banquette in front of you. For those who either know French or know the text of Macbeth or both, this isn’t an issue. If you speak English but not French and don’t know the play well, it can be confusing. Second, this is an interpretation of Macbeth, not a staging of Shakespeare’s play. If you get upset when directors cut the Bard’s plays, you definitely won’t like this. Third, the philosophy of the joint company prioritizes improvisation. As they say on their website, it’s never the same play two nights in a row. If you love surprises and don’t mind the occasional sour note that’s great; if flat moments take you out of the action, you might be disappointed. On the other hand, if the classics bore you but you feel compelled to get cultured anyway, this production is both edgy and old skool.

I would give you my take with no chaser, but I happened to overhear a conversation as I was walking out of the theater that I think says it all about what this show accomplishes. Three men, all in their mid-20s, were walking ahead of me on the sidewalk as we left the theater, and this is what I heard. (I’ve given them names. If this is you, and I gave you the wrong name, email the blog’s administrator.)

Theophrastus: Cool. Way cool. Did you love how three actors took turns as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? It was like they were three facets of the same personality.

Diogenes: No way man. That was pretentious, French bullshit. It’s like “The Three” or something. Freud on stage. Yeah, I get it. Three actors per character: the Id the Ego and the Super Ego. Really?  You can’t get more original than some pseudo-phrenology of the early 20th century?

Socrates:  Whatever. It was the best staging of the play I’ve seen in a while. Definitely better than the one the Public did with Liev Schreiber a couple of years ago. That was [explitive deleted] awful. I think Mayor Mike should pass a city ordinance that says it is illegal in the city of New York to put on a production of Shakespeare in 19th century European military dress. And right after than he should ban productions set in 1930s gangsterland New York.

Theophrastus: You have to admit, it was mercifully short for Shakespeare. The whole thing was, like, an hour and a half. And they only gave you the highlights — the best speeches. It was way cool to end with the “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech.

Diogenes: Oh. My. God! That was the worst! If it isn’t already the cheesiest 75 words in all the world, they made it the end of the play! Aaaaand end scene!

Socrates: Why are you such a cynic? It was an interpretation douchebag! It was a [explitive deleted] tone poem, and I thought they did an awesome job setting the tone. The witches were totally creepy wearing red boxes in place of their heads, and that bit at the end where Lady Macbeth loses it, but she’s behind a white scrim, pressing her screaming face through the fabric like a nightmare was totally surreal! The whole play was like that. The improv jazz, the garbled French and English, the three actors playing both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were meant to invoke a nightmare, where you can’t tell which voice in your head is the one who can see what’s really going on, and which voice is actually the devil in disguise! The theme of the [explitive deleted] play is confusion!

Theophrastus: Yeah! That’s why the witches say “Fair is foul, and foul is fair: hover through the fog and filthy air.” And then in the very next scene Macbeth says to Banquo “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” It’s like no one can tell what’s good or bad.

Socrates: Exactly. I thought the three actors who played Macbeth and the three who played Lady Macbeth were less like three Feudian puppets and more like three echoes of a paranoid mind, three voices in your head, second guessing and mutually accusing each other.

Diogenes: Come on! You have to admit, for someone who doesn’t love this play as much as you [Socrates], this production looks like some serious self-indulgent navel gazing. They should pass out black berets at the door.

Socrates: OK, dude. Not all of us are as sensitive to bullshit as you. For my money it was a work of art. If you want to do better, put it on yourself.

That was as far as I got before my lady and I turned down a side street and left these philosophers to themselves. I say, check it out. It’s only playing two more days. You might agree with Socrates; you might agree with Diogenes. But you won’t know until you’ve tasted it for yourself.