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Theater: Many faces of Macbeth

Shakespeare's 'Scottish Play' meets an array of modern interpretations.

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But just because this Folger production played up the campy and supernatural elements of the play doesn't mean that Teller and company are ignoring the play's topical currency.

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"I can't deny that certain things connect with me today that didn't when I first read 'Macbeth' as a teenager," Teller says. "Severed heads meant nothing to me 20 years ago; today you can see real ones on the Internet." Teller says Macbeth fits the definition of a terrorist ("he uses small localized violence to control the population"), and while the Folger production in Washington makes no reference to this, a Polish production coming to New York this summer does so rather overtly.

Director Grzegorz Jarzyna's "Mac­beth," which premièred three years ago in Warsaw, does not shy away from current politics. Susan Feldman, the artistic director of St. Ann's Warehouse, the theater producing Mr. Jarzyna's version, says this "Macbeth" – which Jarzyna translated into Po­lish – is updated and staged in modern dress.

"It's influenced by images of Al Qaeda," she adds, "and Grzegorz sort of sets it in a military-industrial country that's fighting a Middle East country."

Jarzyna's production – which will run June 17-19 at a tobacco warehouse in Brooklyn because no theater in New York City is big enough to house it – does not make direct analogies with the characters of the play but rather connects the themes of the play with feelings many people have today. "Ever since the Iraq war, there have been so many Macbeths," Ms. Feldman says, " 'Macbeth' is a war play – it's about power, the corruption of power, and leaders who are out of control."

Across the country, in the San Francisco Bay Area, another upcoming "Macbeth" is also taking aim at contemporary America – albeit on a more domestic front.

Mark Jackson's production – premiering later this year at the Shotgun Players in Berkeley, Calif. – will use "Macbeth" to comment on pop culture's blind and often violent ambition. Instead of a battlefield, his "Macbeth" will take place on a fashion runway.

"A great deal is made of Macbeth's clothes fitting or not fitting," says Mr. Jackson. "Also, 'Macbeth' was originally done on a thrust stage [catwalk] and performed in period dress … all these things gave me the idea of using a contemporary fashion-show setting."

Jackson insists that he won't set the play in an actual fashion show, but will use the iconography of that world to "comment on America's obsession with youth and how that corresponds with our cutthroat industries."

Purists, of course, might object to these updates and interpretations, but there seems to be an audience for Shakespeare's 400-year-old play, regardless of whether "Macbeth" is portrayed as an aging, 20th-century despot or a bratty, 21st-century hipster.

"Let's face it, ambition and blood are in the air, culturally and politically," says Jackson, "That's why I suppose 'Macbeth' is having its moment right now."