MACBETH -- At the Folger through November 18. MACBETH - At the Terrace Theater through Saturday
The Folger Theater Group is opening its season with a "Macbeth" that's crammed with ideas. Some are dreadful ideas, some are fascinating ones and all of them are at least interesting.
One perfectly terrible idea, which may have sounded terrific in theory but should have been tossed out on the first try was to hoke up the three witches. These weird sisters are played by men who look and behave like street winos molesting passersby, and their cauldron is about the size of a one-pot yogurt maker. When Macbeth even acknowledges their existence, let alone peers into their puckered papier-mache masks to seek knowledge, he marks himself as a naive fool.
An exciting idea that works was to do Lady Macbeth as a charming and beloved woman. Glynis Bell, who has done marvelous Shakespearen commedy at Folger, is the opposite of your standard shrieking, fiendish Lady Macbeth the kind who makes the Macbeth partnership into that of a shrew goading a weakling.
This Lady Macbeth is the more effective and horrifying because she has a gentle, sensible, soothing manner of expaining to Macbeth the practical means of achieving their shared goal. It's obviously a passionate marriage with a complete identification of ambitions. They are constantly looking out for and protecting each other. Lady Macbeth is cooler before and during the crisis, but begins to crack first when it's past. The manner in which she rallies to put on a good social act to cover his behavior at the banquet scene is eerily touching.
After Duncan's murder, it's interesting to watch Sam Tsoutsouvas' Macbeth, whose royal mannerisms are growing as quickly on the outside as his pain is within. His weary cynicism in the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech, with an ironic smile accompanying the "tale told by an idiot," is striking. But the first impression made by Macbeth, coming in all clean from battle and looking like a young Tony Curtis, with an equally boyish, bare-chested Banquo, gives him the handicap of seeming shallow. The one thing that Macbeth cannot lack is sensibility.
The production, directed by Mikel Lambert, tinkers with nearly everything except, miraculously, period and place. It's still in Scotland, and people are in rough wools, not blue jeans. But Macduff seems resigned, as if he's been through it all before. Banquo is like an old college pal of Macbeth's with whom he's had a falling out. Birnam Wood on the march looks like the Christians decorations going up at a shopping mall. A background soundtrack is full of unidentifiable noises, although one may have been an arcade full of pinball machines and another perhaps the police helicopter.
Let's hope that it was an opening-night accident, not a bright idea, that Macbeth gets Macduff in the groin with his sword (for which Macduff shoots him a "no fair" look).
And also that, in the thick of the theater season, there will be less time to think how every detail can be subjected to an original idea.