Macbeth is usually the one who does the murdering. But in Jack O’Brien’s misbegotten Lincoln Center production, the character — and the play — is the victim of involuntary dramatic manslaughter committed by its star, Ethan Hawke. There’s no malice or premeditation here. But the Scottish Play is DOA: Ethan Hawke hath murdered Macbeth.
Hawke’s flailing rendition deserves to join the pantheon of legendary celebrity Shakespeare flops, alongside Keanu Reeves’s Hamlet. He clearly knows where the role’s high points are. But he lacks the technical resources and sensitivity to achieve them. It’s like watching an impression of a classical actor performing Macbeth. During soliloquies, he wanders distractedly, searching the stage floor for inspiration. (Sometimes these inspirations are in very bad taste: During the performance I saw, he actually licked blood off his fingers after murdering Duncan.) He often appears to be waiting for a close-up that never comes. His Macbeth acts like what Hawke is: a slumming movie star. At the opening, he seems to have wandered in from a medieval-themed Oscar party instead of a gore-soaked battlefield.
Like the Scottish lords trying to preserve society as Macbeth’s regime collapses, the heroic ensemble labors to keep the show together. But their efforts can only go so far. This production needs a coup.