If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Macbeth 1969” Debuts at Long Wharf
It ain’t your daddy’s “Macbeth”, that’s for sure. The current rendering of Shakespeare’s classic at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre is adapted and directed by Eric Ting and entitled “Macbeth 1969.” The basic idea here involves the ugly repercussions of the Vietnam War and the nightmarish effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on returning soldiers. It’s quite a concept and one you almost hope works. That it doesn’t is disheartening and may prove even more than that to some theatergoers. Needless to say, purists should beware.
Set in a small town hospital in Middle America, “Macbeth 1969” finds its title character, played by McKinley Belcher III, returning home a hero. Three women (Socorro Santiago, Shrine Babb and Jackie Chung) play a trio of nurses, the witches, Lady Macbeth and the wife of Macduff among others. One actor plays both Banquo (bandaged here like the Invisible Man) and Macduff. The minimal cast is completed by George Kulp, a politician and war hero (King Duncan?) who promotes Macbeth. The basic story is still evident and Ting has utilized a majority of the original text though lines are distributed liberally amongst the various characters. There are extensive notes and a synopsis from Mr. Ting in the theatre playbill that could prove helpful, but shouldn’t a play stand on its own? Is required reading really necessary to understand this production? Probably.
“Macbeth 1969” is ultimately a prime example of the problems that arise when you try to squeeze a familiar work within the confines of a tricky concept. It can be interesting but it often doesn’t make sense in the final analysis. Lady Macbeth may get the worst of it at Long Wharf. Her “Unsex me now” speech is delivered in the midst of orgasm while the famous “Out, damn spot!” soliloquy becomes an exercise in cleaning the hospital floor. It doesn’t help that few in the cast seem able to handle the language and clear diction is at a premium. As a result, most of Shakespeare’s poetry is lost and the play’s inherent tragedy is trivialized.
Mimi Lien’s ingenious hospital setting dramatically reconfigures the Long Wharf space but I couldn’t help thinking how ideal it would be for a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Tyler Micoleau’s moody lighting is top-notch and Ryan Rumery’s eerie sound design and music casts a magical spell over the proceedings. Macduff’s arrival in the midst of a blizzard is one of several striking effects.
All said, this is an ambitious adaptation that ultimately doesn’t go the distance. Mr. Ting deserves credit for bringing new imagination and daring to the text. Indeed, I was fortunate enough to read the director’s adaptation and it is obvious -- especially in his footnotes -- how much thought he gave this project. An admirable failure at best, “Macbeth 1969” might have ultimately been more comfortable on the experimental stages at Yale Repertory.
“Macbeth 1969” continues at Long Wharf through February 12. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.