Last month at the Terrace Theater, Tom Stoppard made raucous fun of the "Macbeth" banquet scene for the shady purposes of a concoction called "Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth."
Last night at the Folger Theatre, the banquet scene was back to its old fear-provoking self, thanks to some artful staging by Mikel Lambert and an appropriately ghastly appearance by Kennedy Gray -- the blood advancing down his brow and cheeks like a crimson river delta -- as Banquo's ghost.
Gray does as well by the stalwart Banquo alive as dead, and there are a number of other strong performances in this inaugural production of the Folger's 1979-80 season. But apart from the superior banquet scene, this is a "Macbeth" that consistently fails to stir the soul.
Time and again, key confrontations and revelations are played clumsily or mechanically. When Sam Tsoutsouvas asks, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" the audience should see a hint of that dagger, too. Instead, what we see is the careful, premeditated reading and staging of the speech, as if Macbeth were gazing not at a dagger but at a TelePrompTer. (It is also a bit odd that Tsoutsouvas seems to grasp his hallucinatory dagger before inquiring whether it has its "handle toward my hand.")
Tsoutsouvas is a skillful actor, but the internal battle of Macbeth's ambition and conscience demands more range and spontaneity than have so far found their way into Tsoutsouvas' performance.
Another high note that emerges flat in Macduff's discovery of Duncan's assassination. John Neville-Andrews seems to have gone out of his way to avoid a loud, emotion-wracked response to the sight of his dead and bloodied king, as if that would be too gauche. But the cool and collected way he reports the event makes us wonder whether it is a king or a cockroach that has just been killed.
In between climaxes, however, this is an intelligent and appropriately moody "Macbeth," well served by William Penn's eerie music and Hugh Lester's lighting and scenery [although the stone face of the latter looks like "stick-on" tiles of a sort you might expect to find at your neighborhood Hechingers].
Shakespeare appeared to lose interest in Lady Macbeth midway through the play. She whips her husband into a murderous frame of mind, helps him cover his tracks and then, abruptly, has pangs of conscience as telling as his, and commits suicide.
So the actress who plays her must make an immediate and shattering impression if she is to give full life to this fierce, driven woman.
And that is the only shortcoming of Glynis Bell's nicely crafted performance -- she isn't quite riveting enough quite soon enough.
In "Dogg's Hamlet Cahoot's Macbeth," "Macbeth" was performed in someone's apartment because a repressive government had refused to let it be done in a theater. At the Folger, only the emotions are apartment-sized.