New York — Macbeth Tragedy by William Shakespeare. Original direction by Kenneth Frankel. Additional direction by Zoe Caldwell. Starring Christopher Plummer, Glenda Jackson. Christopher Plummer, Glenda Jackson, and company have come to the Mark Hellinger Theatre in a production of ``Macbeth'' that is more theatrically effective than consistently sustained or emotionally overwhelming. Considering its pre-Broadway travails - three directors, a changed set, and repeated cast replacements - to have readied the revival for a New York opening was in itself no small achievement. Credit the seasoned professionalism of the stars and their principal players, plus (presumably) the adjustments made by Zoe Caldwell to Kenneth Frankel's original staging. Whatever the mix, the results are resolute and considerably impressive.
``Macbeth'' is a darkling play, a tragedy of black crimes committed in the dead of night. As one critic has noted, the dagger soliloquy, the murders of Duncan and Banquo, Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking, and the scenes with the Witches, as well as other episodes, occur at night or in a dim twilight.
Suggestion and susceptibility furnish the tragedy's underlying psychological drives. From the moment Mr. Plummer's bluff and soldierly Macbeth hears the Witches' predictions, he begins yielding to its intimations of a means to fulfill the prophecies. He even asks, ``...why do I yield to that suggestion,/ Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,/ And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,/ Against the use of nature?''
Later, when Macbeth wavers, it is his monstrous partner who urges, ``But screw your courage to the sticking place,/ And we'll not fail....'' Plummer and Miss Jackson probe the changing mental states and dispositions of these vaulting partners in crime. Macbeth is in fact the first to collapse when confronted with the gruesome apparition of Banquo, his second victim. But the once-honored soldier recovers a desperate defiance, while Lady Macbeth sinks into the nightmare remorse that ends in the sleepwalking scene and her subsequent death. It is in such developmemts that the two stars expose the dark drives that impel their actions and propel the play.
Red-gowned and auburn wigged, Jackson conveys both the sexuality and the ruthless Realpolitik that motivate this paragon of wickedness. The caressing beauty of the actress's speech makes the wickedness of Lady Macbeth's mind seem the more horrible. Plummer's method is simpler. For the most part he speaks the soliloquies with a quietude that articulates internal reflections. The dagger Macbeth sees before him is a figment.
``Macbeth'' is also and finally a play about the deceptive nature of evil. All of the witches' predictions are hedged with hidden disclaimers, unseen traps that finally overtake Macbeth. In the aftermath of the first ``s'eance,'' Banquo asks, ``...can the devil speak true,'' later noting how ``to win us to our harm,/ The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/ Win us with honest trifles, to betray's/In deepest consequence.'' But it is the embittered Macbeth who finally decries ``these juggling fiends.../ That keep the word of promise in our ear,/ And break it to our hope.''
The revival at the Hellinger receives a powerful reinforcement from Alan Scarfe's stalwart, unintimidated Macduff. Paul Shenar is a foreboding Banquo, and Jack Gwillim makes a kindly but majestic figure of the doomed Duncan. In addition to those already mentioned, the variously accomplished cast includes Randle Mell (Malcolm), Conan McCarty (Donalbain), Philip Kerr (Ross), Michael Butler (Fleance), Cherry Jones (Lady Macduff), and Jeff Weiss (tripling as the drunken Porter, one of the Murderers, and Siward).
The towering production designed by Daphne Dare features a multilevel platform surmounted by an assemblage of mobile granite panels and columns. The effect is to distance the spectator from the tension-filled events of the tragedy. When thunder, lightning, and mist are required, Miss Dare and lighting designer Marc B. Weiss collaborate effectively. Patricia Zipprodt's solidly colored costumes strike one as medieval-timeless. William Penn and Louis Applebaum composed a score that ranges from drums and trumpets to ominous sound effects.