Theater archives

Macbeth’s Birnam Wood Comes to 42nd Street


In New York, it’s often possible to see the classics staged, but it’s rare to see them interpreted. Director Arin Arbus’s new Macbeth at Theatre for a New Audience makes a case in point. Her ensemble boasts many strong actors—reason enough to do a familiar play, perhaps. The superb Annika Boras makes Lady Macbeth into a densely packed coil of power lust; wound into a sleek black dress in early scenes, the tall Queen comes arrestingly unsprung in the assassination’s aftermath. In the title role, John Douglas Thompson carefully imbues every word with sense, though somehow an impressionable version of the Thane never crystallizes from his labors.

But the overall event, though, lacks a point of view. Thrust stages can make it hard to cultivate irony, and here Arbus does a lot of courtly positioning of tunic-clad swordsmen without much spatial or metaphorical dimension. Julian Crouch’s gray Gothic set and Goya-style masks help strike a medieval tone, and the male witches could have amounted to more than a casting convenience, but the production remains curiously sedate considering the hellish slaughter it depicts. Considering what dark deeds reliably appear on the front pages, a tragedy delving into the brutal logic of dictatorship calls for more than a few shrieking owls.

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