"Macbeth 1969" Takes Wrong Turn
By David A. Rosenberg
In New Haven, “Macbeth 1969,” director/adaptor Eric Ting’s well-meaning attempt to expose the lasting horrors of war is a misguided travesty. Squeezing a tale of ambition, revenge and guilt into an undigested thesis piece, twisting the work out of sensible shape, despoiling its language and its tragic arc, it’s like Cinderella’s shoe and O. J. Simpson’s glove. It just doesn’t fit.
Shakespeare’s three weird sisters/witches are now a trio of nurses on a hospital ward, tending to Vietnam veterans. Enter Banquo, his face completely bandaged. Then the “something wicked” Macbeth arrives, seemingly without physical wounds, but psychologically a time bomb.
Urged on by his wife (also one of the nurses/witches), Macbeth conspires to kill Duncan, here in the guise of a politician. Why? Who knows? This happens during a heavy-breathing sex scene during which Lady M. incongruously cries out, “unsex me here.” At least she gives new meaning to “Screw your courage to the sticking place.”
Ting attributes Macbeth’s murderous actions not to hubris or paranoia or sheer ambition but to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He wants to extrapolate from Macbeth to the deleterious effects wars have on soldiers, effectively generalizing a personal situation and making Macbeth without motive, conscience or guilt.
What we see doesn’t match what we hear. Lady M. says “What, in our house?” though we’re clearly still in the hospital. When the witches predict that Macbeth will be king, we wonder of what country. And what are we to make of having Macbeth tell the wheelchair-bound Banquo, “I wish your horses swift and sure of foot / And so I do commend you to their backs”? Nor does it make sense to put the “Is this a dagger” speech after, not before Macbeth gives the shiv to Duncan.
One scene that does work is administering shock therapy to Macbeth. Unfortunately, the treatment doesn’t take and he is still a killing machine until finally confronting his nemesis, Macduff, in a prolonged and ludicrous fight to the finish.
Not helping are the performers whose mouthings of Shakespeare’s dialogue sit gratingly upon the ears. The actors sound as if they’d be more comfortable with updating. This is Macbeth as a confused, helpless marionette in a rhymed-couplet version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”