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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Macbeth [1969]
Long Wharf Theatre

Also see Fred's review of Boeing-Boeing

Macbeth [1969]
Shirine Babb and McKinley Belcher III
Adapter/Director Eric Ting's play Macbeth [1969] is arresting, startling, and intellectually challenging. Sometimes bombarding one's senses, the Long Wharf world premiere production runs just short of two hours without intermission, through February 12th.

Ting draws immediate focus upon Macbeth (McKinley Belcher III) and Banquo (Barret O'Brien) who find themselves in a rural hospital in the Midwest. The two soldiers, in 1969, have just returned from Vietnam and their brutal experiences have traumatized each. Banquo is covered in white bandages and has difficulty ambulating and expressing himself. Macbeth, physically intact, is psychologically fractured.

Ting utilizes Shakespeare's dialogue but acknowledges that he moves and transposes lines from one section to another. It is the day before Christmas and the adapter's synopsis provides 15 labeled scenes with an epilogue. His titles for the episodes include: "Honor," "Celebration," "Fear," Cure," "Blood," and "Haunting." Note to those attending: arrive early enough to study this playbill addition before watching the performance. It is invaluable. Were it possible to reference while observing, the explanations would be even more useful.

The oftentimes astonishing rendering of the tragedy does not dwell on the "other worldly," even if Banquo's ghost does appear. Instead, Ting cuts to Macbeth and Banquo and poses this implied question: Is there any possibility that either of these men might recover from what he has recently experienced in Vietnam?

Mimi Lien's design for the show draws instant attention. She creates a recognizable hospital ward: three beds and a large, cubicle-like nurses' station. Playing the nurses, who have various lines from Shakespeare's script, are Socorro Santiago (Nurse [1]), a matron and head nurse; Shirine Babb (Nurse [2]), a young woman who is Macbeth's wife; and Jackie Chung (Nurse [3], a young mother who is pregnant and recently abandoned by Macduff.

As if actor O'Brien hasn't enough to do while embodying Banquo, he is double cast, late, as Macduff, who wears a peace sign button and is clearly anti-conflict. Rounding out the cast is the distinguished looking Politician (George Kulp). He evidently emerged from an earlier war with kudos.

Many of the moments within this version are nothing short of gripping. Ting zeroes in on Macbeth and the woman more conventionally thought of as Lady Macbeth in his third segment which he calls "Lust." These two individuals have been separated by war and now re-engage. They are entangled upon one of the beds when she anticipates both murder and ambition. She is almost gleeful and suggests, to her man, that he will soon hold greater power—a crescendo of force. Later, as the plot unfolds, Macbeth suffers after he kills Banquo. He requires a certain therapy.

The three nurses are sometimes "wyrd" (meaning fate) women yet not witches. Ting moves his adaptation of the story through them. They are active, living conduits.

Macbeth [1969] can be scary and it virtually shrieks at its audience. Shakespeare's words are spoken while the paranoia and absolute terror at and beneath the surface are accentuated by brilliantly staging the action during the chosen era. The complexity of Ting's work truly bids another viewing which would enable a more comprehensive grasp of its intricacies. Questions abound: Is Macbeth in any way heroic; or a criminal? Does free will have any place or does destiny rule? Finally, a statement: Macbeth is not a bad person but he is victimized. Clearly, his time in Vietnam undid him and accelerated his tortured decline.

Eric Ting's scholarship, ability to distill and transfer text, and acute perceptions are remarkable. This resultant work is stimulating and galvanic. Pivotal throughout the performance are contributions in lighting design by Tyler Micoleau and sound design/music by Ryan Rumery. It must be exhausting to perform the play night after night. The cast, as a unit, deserves commendation. The evening is not one designed for the faint of heart.

Macbeth [1969] continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through February 12th. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.


Photo: Joan Marcus


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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