Guthrie Theater's Macbeth

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I first came upon Shakespeare's Macbeth in a 9th Grade English class and was instantly enthralled. And why not? It has everything a 15 year old boy would love: Violence, creepy witches, war scenes, sexy ladies who talk smack (screw your courage to the sticky place), and pathos galore. I have read the play many times and seen numerous performances, from Shakespeare in the Park to full blown productions. That is why when I heard that The Guthrie Theater was putting on Macbeth, I had to get tickets. And good ones too. We had 4th row seats located dead center of the thrust stage. I was going to take in Macbeth in all its glory.

Joe Dowling's direction of Macbeth also promised to be lean and mean. No intermission for this Macbeth; just 125 minutes of straight action with the drama ramped up to the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff. However, Dowling starts the play off with an added scene: The Guthrie's production begins with a battle scene full of soldiers repelling down to the stage, the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire, and Macbeth dispatching of King Duncan's enemies in ninja-like fashion. We get the idea right away that this Macbeth is no stranger to violence or killing.

The set design was spare with Inverness portrayed as somewhat down on its heels. Cracks in the roof only allow lightning, no sun, and the columns were gritty and dirty. Detritus of the previous battles lay strewn across the stage and the décor appeared to be from the early 20th Century. Costuming didn't give away the play's setting as military men wore uniforms from the perhaps the 1930's, politicians wore suits and ties, while other trappings of medieval times were also present. Dowling uses these various costumes to take us away from placing the play in context in time and to focus on the story in front of us.

Lady Macbeth was sexy in her flowing red hair and gave a visceral performance. She is the driver of Macbeth's actions and when she says she would rip a suckling babe from her breast and bash its head in if that what it takes to be king, you believe her. Macbeth is played as a hunky warrior who is driven by fate, even though he knows his actions will lead to doom. Being told that he will come to no harm by man "woman born" finally gives him the confidence to "be bloody, bold, and resolute" as Lady Macbeth implores.

The famous set pieces such as Banquo's ghost appearing at the dinner are played superbly (my wife gasped at Banquo's appearance) and the butchering of Macduff's family is both creepy and terrifying, especially as the three henchmen approach Macduff's daughter and the lights go down, leaving the awful deed to your own imagination. Finally the final battle between Macduff and Macbeth mirrors the opening fight scene with Macbeth's ultimate demise given a bloody and ruthless presentation.

The Guthrie's Macbeth is intense, bloody, visceral. It's probably one of the most physical performances I have seen. If you are a fan of Shakespeare or Macbeth, it is a must see. If you like good theater or haven't been to the new Guthrie, Macbeth is an excellent way to score some culture cred. Finally Macbeth is a warning to all who claim that God has told them to lead. The Fates are strange things and may have ulterior motives than passing out glory and power.

34 Comments

Great review Free! I am really looking forward to seeing Macbeth, especially now after reading this. Did you buy tickets full price or do the rush line?

Actually, the Guthrie had a 1/2 ticket sale for preview week. We went on a Thursday -- the night before the "opening," had 4th row seats for $22.50 per ticket. Beat that!

Wow. That is pretty good. I usually do pretty well in the rush line at $20 per ticket, but I have to be in line at least 2 hours in advance.

I'll have to keep my eyes open for the kind of deal you got though. That is fantastic!

Sounds fantastic, free. I may have to look into tix.

Two of my favorite theater-going memories are Guthrie productions of Richard III and King Lear. Granted, I don't go to the theater that often, but I'd like to believe those would still rank quite high even if I did.

Went to the Guthrie Mar 4th, for Macbeth and we hated it. It was awful. The worst thing was the costumes. Having it take place in what looked like WWII time period, was very distracting and I feel it ruined the entire play. We wanted to see swords, guys dressed like Knights, Kings dressed like Kings, etc. Instead there were automatic weapons, guys carrying briefcases and wearing fedoras. The acting was also pretty pathetic, seemed like most of the actors were bored and just reciting the lines, like they've done so many times. If you want to see Macbeth, don't go to the Guthrie.

The only plus was that we waited in line for 15 mins, got 7th row, center stage tickets, for $20. Had I paid $55 per ticket, I would be demanding my money back, it was that bad.

Wow, Waste of Time, I guess we just have to agree to disagree. I thought it was great. The acting was top notch. Most reviewers agree but everyone's entitled to their opinion.


Thanks for sharing.

Hey -- I'm with you, WasteofTime!! Macbeth is a favorite of mine and this was a lackluster, flat performance. The "Is this a dagger I see before me?" scene was horrible!! And the murder of Duncan, which should make me shudder to my bones, was nothing! He might just as well have been taking out the trash!! On the other side, the good things were the sound, the murder of Lady MacDuff and children scene, Lady MacBeth's "Out Damned Spot" scene, and the very end of the play. I do agree that a period piece loses impact when they take the characters out of that period (costumes and settings). It makes no sense to be talking about Scotland when battles were waged with swords and daggers, and the visual looks like Latin American military in the late 1930's!! They got it all wrong this time -- and were greeted at the end of the play by very lukewarm applause. Very disappointing!!!

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