Available on DVD (for United States and Canada) is Roman Polanski's 1971 film of Macbeth. "Not for the squeamish, even 31 years later. Roman Polanski's brilliant, ultra-violent 1971 version stars Jon Finch as Shakespeare's upwardly-mobile-at-all-costs Scotsman. The DVD features a gorgeous widescreen transfer, all the better to view the sound and fury," writes David Germain, AP movie writer. Available from amazon.com.
Review of performance with Kelsey Grammer at Colonial Theatre, Boston, May 20, 2000
MACBETH. Play by William Shakepseare. Performed at the Colonial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, Saturday May 20, 2000, at 2 p.m. Directed by Terry Hands. Set and Costume Design: Timothy O'Brien. Cast: Peter Gerety (A Captain, Seyton, and a Murderer); Starla Benford, Kelly Hutchinson, and Myra Lucretia Taylor (Witches); Peter Michael Goetz (Duncan, An Old Man, An English Doctor, and Siward); Sam Breslin Wright (Malcolm); Michael Gross (Ross); Kelsey Grammer (Macbeth); Stephen Markle (Banquo); Ty Burrell (Lennox); Diane Venora (Lady Macbeth); Bruce A. Young (Macduff); Austin Lysy (Donalbain and Young Siward); Mark Mineart (A Murderer); Kate Forbes (Lady Macduff); L. B. Tracey (Her Son); Jenna Spencer (Her Daughter); John Ahlin (A Murderer and A Scottish Doctor); Kelly Hutchinson (Gentlewoman); and Jacob Pitts (A Servant).
I attended the performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Colonial Theatre in Boston on the afternoon of May 20, 2000. The play will run in Boston until May 28 and will then go to New York for a limited run of several weeks. The play stars Kelsey Grammer, best known as Frasier Crane of the television situation comedies Cheers and Frasier. Performed with some cuts and without intermission, the running time of the play was one hour and fifty minutes.
Kelsey Grammer was a truly great Macbeth. He was a riveting dramatic presence. It was a pleasure to hear him and to see him. His speech was always intelligible and interesting, his motivation as a character was always clear. In the delivery of his lines, his timing was always admirable. His every gesture and facial expression were worthy of note, and helped to delineate the character. His English was always American, and yet seemed perfectly suited to Shakespeare's language. Only at two moments did his speech recall the petulant Dr. Frasier Crane. His soliloquies were quite memorable performances.
The three witches were also very good, and the scene in which Macbeth revisited them was the best in the play, a truly dramatic scene.
Kate Forbes as Lady Macduff and L. B. Tracey as her son did a good job with their brief scene.
The rest of the cast left much to be desired, and did not give Grammer as Macbeth the chance to interact with good, interesting characters. Part of the problem was the stage direction. Most of the actors were shouting most of the time. It was not always clear why, or even sometimes what. The cumulative effect of so much shouting produced a certain amount of tedium and at times the sense of watching inexplicable interaction among the mentally disturbed. The audience was often fidgety while characters ranted and raved and ran on and off the stage, usuallly for no apparent reason. Were the characters upset throughout the play because Duncan had been murdered? Of course not. But what was going on was often unclear, except to the extent that one might have been familiar with the play from previous exposure to it.
Diane Venora as Lady Macbeth was a character who seemed perpetually pissed off by nature, rather than as a response to any circumstances in the world around her. Venora's voice is husky, somewhat hoarse-sounding, not a pleasant voice to listen to. Her delivery of lines was not especially effective. In the earlier scenes, she did a lot of shouting. She did not seem to be supplying Macbeth with motivation and resolve. She seemed merely an annoyance that he had to put up with. Her sleepwalking scene was not a great dramatic moment. It was more of a triviality to be gotten through. Instead of shouting, she spoke in that scene in so muffled a manner as to be mostly unintelligible. If she uttered the famous lines in that scene, they did not register.
Michael Gross, who played Ross, is best known as Mr. Keaton, the father on the televison series Family Ties. He portrayed Ross as a pompous individual. Like most of the male actors in the lesser roles, he usually seemed to be delivering lines, but not acting.
Bruce A. Young as Macduff was the most egregious shouter. His cry of horror when announcing Duncan's murder did not suggest that he felt horror, or anything at all for that matter. He just seemed to be a person who was always shouting. When he shouted, a spray of spittle was often emanating visibly from his mouth.
Peter Gerety as the Porter who provided comic relief, was appreciated by much of the audience, but his Gabby Hayes wannabe persona did not appeal to me.
The bare black walls and predominantly black, more or less modern military style costumes were somewhat suggestive of a leather bar. Perhaps any other sets or costumes would have subjected the designer to the accusation of being old-fashioned. The sameness of dress among the male actors made it more difficult to tell them apart and contributed to the general atmosphere of abstraction and insanity that characterized the scenes without Macbeth.
I would recommend the production to people familiar with the play who would like to see a masterful interpretation of the title role. If anyone unfamiliar with the play is planning to see it, I would suggest reading the play beforehand, or listening to it on audio cassette. The Modern Library/BBC Audio Book version with Dennis Quilley and Hannah Gordon is a good performance that demonstrates that the play as written is great theatre, full, at all times, of interest and dramatic tension. If one knew Macbeth only from the current production at the Colonial Theatre, one would be justified in considering it a tragedy of the absurd.
June 23, 2000