Sunday, February 28, 2010

Murder most foul

Just got back from an evening at the Guthrie that easily counts as the worst performance of Macbeth I've ever been subjected to. The kindest interpretation of what I watched tonight is that Joe Dowling, taking Act V Scene V to heart, decided that the best way to do Macbeth was to hire a couple of poor players, have them strut and fret upon the stage for a couple of hours with as much sound and fury as possible, and hope that the whole thing would signify, if not nothing, then as little as possible. If such was his intention, he succeeded admirably.

Easily the worst offender in this night's travesty was Erik Heger, whose turn as Macbeth combined gratuitous overacting with bizarre line readings to reach lows of incompetence many a high school wannabe could not achieve. The result was a performance that betrayed not the slightest glimmer of insight into Macbeth's psyche, while managing to obscure the power and flow of Shakespeare's poetry - no mean feat when one is playing Macbeth. I know the play was advertised as including graphic violence, but I didn't realize it was the language itself that was to be so butchered. Mr Heger, the playbill informs me, has performed in a number of popular soaps; I suggest he restrict his future career to daytime television and not sully the stage attempting Shakespeare again.

While Mr. Heger's performance was particularly cringe-worthy, the rest of the show wasn't much better. It didn't help that, for reasons known only to them, the company decided to restrict the play to a two-hour performance without intermission [1,2]. The upshot of this was that large swathes of the text had to be cut - including, for instance, about a third of Act IV Scene I [3] - and what remained was often delivered at such break-neck speed as to make it not only unintelligible to anyone not already familiar with the script, but also entirely inauthentic. Are we really to believe that all the tangled phrases of Act I Scene V trip lightly off the tongues of Lord and Lady Macbeth? These are words to be savored, phrases to be wrenched from the writhing pit of inner turmoil. Not lines to be rattled off with the speed of a waitress reciting the day's specials.

The one bright spot in this general wreck was Robert Berdahl's performance as Macduff, which rose cleanly above the mediocrity around him, so that the one scene in the entire play charged with genuine emotion was Act IV Scene III. It's fitting then, that the best description of tonight's performance can be found in the words of Macduff upon discovering Duncan's murdered corpse:

O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart
Cannot conceive nor name thee!
What's the matter

Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!

[1] I suppose that in itself should have tipped me off - a performance of Macbeth in two hours could hardly be anything but botched.

[2] In retrospect, I have mixed feelings about the 2 hours / no intermission thing. On the one hand, its shortness was the one mercy the performance afforded. On the other, if there had been an intermission I could have walked out and salvaged some part of my evening.

[3] What perverse, tone-deaf idiot chooses to cut, of all things, the full list of the cauldron's ingredients, Hecate's entire role and Macbeth's glorious speech as he enters the witches' lair?


equivocal said...

Sounds like no more than just an extreme case of Americanised theatre: language sacrificed to special effects and slangy, pop-psychological emoting.

Falstaff said...

equivocal: Pretty much. Though in all fairness, I don't think the performance could be called slangy. And I don't know about the "no more than" - this much is pretty bad.

And speaking of special effects, did I mention the interminable fight scenes with machine guns and flashing lights and actors flying down from the ceiling? Macbeth as Dirty Dozen.