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Review Roundup: ‘Macbeth’ at Lincoln Center

Ethan Hawke returns to Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre in a new production of Macbeth, which opened Nov. 21. Hawke stars as the title lord bent on taking the Scottish throne once he encounters a trio of witches who predict greatness in his future. The actor previously starred at Lincoln Center Theater in Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia trilogy (receiving a Tony nomination) and the two-part Henry IV, both staged by Tony winner Jack O’Brien (Hairspray) who also directs this production. British actress Anne-Marie Duff (Strange Interlude) makes her American debut as the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth. The cast also includes Tony winner Richard Easton (The Invention of Love), Brian d’Arcy James (The Sweet Smell of Success, Shrek, Smash), Daniel Sunjata (Take Me Out), Jonny Orsini (The Nance), and, as the three witches Malcolm Gets (Merrily We Roll Along, Two Gentlemen of Verona, TV’s Caroline in the City), John Glover (Love! Valour! Compassion!), and Byron Jennings (Stuff Happens). Did the critics fall under Macbeth’s spell? Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

Daniel Sunjata and Ethan Hawke in a scene from Shakespeare's Macbeth at Lincoln Center (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Daniel Sunjata and Ethan Hawke in a scene from Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ at Lincoln Center (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“Though best known as a movie star, Mr. Hawke has demonstrated his stage-worthiness in shows that include David Rabe’s Hurlyburly (which, O his prophetic soul, has a Macbeth-citing title!) and two epics for Mr. O’Brien at Lincoln Center, The Coast of Utopia and Henry IV. His Macbeth, alas, is swallowed up by the prevailing shadows and spectacle. Mr. Hawke, in turn, swallows many of his lines. His is a mumblecore Macbeth, an heir to the petulant Hamlet he played on screen 13 (ooh, 13) years ago. He delivers Shakespeare’s poetry like a moody, glue-sniffing teenager reciting Leonard Cohen lyrics to himself.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Someone wicked this way comes. It’s Ethan Hawke and he wreaks bloody murder in Macbeth. Over the play’s two and a half hours, the 43-year-old actor churns up a cauldronful of emotions—from shaky uncertainty to bold determination—and ably anchors Shakespeare’s tragedy. But, in the end, he’s upstaged by a beguiling bouquet of blood red roses and some stage magic.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Ethan Hawke has picked the worst possible time to show restraint. In this new Macbeth, the star famous for throwing himself into every role with full-throttle enthusiasm mysteriously recedes into the background. Aside from a few heated moments—and not even that heated, in the grand scheme of Macbeth things—the titular murderous Scotsman seems less present than the ghosts who haunt him. Often Hawke mumbles in a monotone, as if dead-set on foiling those who accuse him of overacting.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York
“Jack O’Brien’s Macbeth is certainly striking in its dark designs. Scott Pask’s talismanic set, Catherine Zuber’s leather-heavy costumes, Japhy Weideman’s sharp lighting: All combine to form a rich background for O’Brien’s occultist concept, in which the three ambisexual witches (Byron Jennings, John Glover and Malcolm Gets) and their queen (Francesca Faridany) play unusually central roles in the action. Unfortunately, this only points up the enervating passivity of the production’s central couple—a lethargic, unengaging Ethan Hawke as the regicidal lord and a thin, rushed Anne-Marie Duff as his scheming wife.”

Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press
“Duff, making a triumphant American debut, is an exquisite Lady Macbeth. Generally gowned in white, in contrast to her character’s black soul, Duff expresses a range of emotions.…Hawke, previously directed by O’Brien for Tony Award-nominated work in The Coast of Utopia, gives an equally impassioned performance, although his Macbeth is modern, introspective and boyish.”

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly
“Though his scruffy, still-boyish looks suggest the prototypical Hamlet, Hawke makes a very convincing (and wonderfully sleazy) Scottish king. And as Macbeth gains power, so does the actor. As Lady Macbeth, the sleepwalking, hand-washing, regicide-plotting woman behind the man, English actress Anne-Marie Duff maintains a delicate balance between imperious and docile, sexy and demoralizing. But director Jack O’Brien’s stylish production—see Catherine Zuber’s uber-trendy military-chic costumes—practically comes to a grinding halt when the pious Macduff (Graceland‘s Daniel Sunjata) and heir-to-the-throne Malcolm (Jonny Orsini) begin plotting their takedown of Macbeth.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“Expanding upon the dark magic and occult elements of William Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy, this monumentally scaled Broadway production creates bold visuals and eerie soundscapes, by turns cinematic and operatic. But the human drama is correspondingly dwarfed, thanks to a mixed bag of disharmonious acting styles led by Ethan Hawke’s underpowered take on the title role.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Daniel Sunjata lends an earthier robustness to Macbeth’s avowed foe Macduff, while Brian d’Arcy James proves a soulful Banquo, the friend sacrificed to Macbeth’s increasing paranoia and ambition. But an affecting Macbeth needs an affecting Macbeth, and the hubris of its star casting dooms this production from the start.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“[T]he stars of this Macbeth are the supernatural creatures whose presence dominates— even overshadows—all the mortals in a throbbing parallel universe of witches, Hecate the Queen Witch (a character often omitted) and an entourage of furry thingies that suggest a road company of Cats. And these weird sisters don’t just squat around a cauldron and poof away. Played by men—John Glover, Byron Jennings and Malcolm Gets—they have long, womanly white hair, beards and zombie makeup. Glover’s witch wears a fetching black negligee under his rags.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“As Macbeth, not only does Hawke recite the text terribly, often mumbling, he plays the role like a flamboyant prima donna who has taken too many mind-altering drugs. Anne-Marie Duff, making her Broadway debut, portrays the characteristically icy Lady Macbeth as too frail. There are many fine actors in the ensemble, ranging from Brian d’Arcy James to Jonny Orsini, who fail to make much of a difference in this mess.”


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