“A Tragedy of the Imagination”

I recently finished watching Rupert Goold’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart and was blown away. The adaptation keeps the Scottish locations and names, but sets it in a bleak, gloomy environment that is essentially an old run-down hospital morgue, with Stalinist soviet-era costumes, weapons, and sensibilities. Amazing performances aside, simply the aesthetic that Goold created in this adaptation is enough to keep you drawn in completely. There is a constant air of menace and distress, every shot is dark, grimy, dirty, and the three witches (portrayed here as blood-soaked nurses) are frightening. Not to mention the blood. There is a lot of blood in this production, which is fitting since the word “blood” is spoken a good 50 or so times throughout the whole play.

The main hook of this production for me though was of course Patrick Stewart as the titular tragic Macbeth, a character full of unchecked ambition, and a desire for a new world (even at the cost of the old one). If you’re familiar with Macbeth then you’re aware that this unchecked ambition doesn’t go so well for Ol’ McB, as he is eventually beheaded by the Thane of Fife, Macduff. In the few productions of this play that I have seen, the director and actors make it clear that this final duel between the Macs is Macbeth’s final push for his ultimate goal; his fight against spiritual prophecy that has predetermined his failure. What makes this production different and exciting is the director’s ability to make it clear that it is not Macduff who ultimately brings Macbeth’s undoing, but rather Macbeth’s own readiness to be killed. It’s almost as if he’s given up, allowed his death to happen, he no longer cares for this world he has fought for, and I believe that the best way Patrick Stewart makes that choice apparent to the audience is in his “tomorrow” soliloquy.

Admittedly, this speech is in my top five favorite Shakespeare monologues. It completely encapsulates Macbeth’s nihilistic attitude towards life in about twelve lines.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Brilliant. And Patrick Stewart brings his own equally brilliant adaptation to this monologue. Just take a gander:

Upon hearing the news of his wife’s death, he hardly takes a pause and responds completely cold, not a single utterance of grief at the passing (by her own hand) of his wife. The speech carries on with Macbeth’s sudden realization that time, “tomorrow”, will forever spin forward; completely painful, and completely meaningless. The anguish on his face at the third “tomorrow” is heartbreaking, the way he looks down to his diseased wife on “all our yesterdays” and the disdain with which he says “out, out brief candle” show that he has completely given up.

Man, I can talk about this monologue for hours, but just go ahead and watch it. And then watch the whole production, it’s on Netflix so check it out, it’s pretty fantastic.

Mamet: Back with a Vengeance

When one door closes, another opens. These words could not ring more truer than tonight, October 12, when another David Mamet show opens on Broadway. Though the star-studded production of Race closed only a few months ago, audiences can again be delighted with Mamet’s funny, heartwarming… dickish… words in A Life in the Theatre.

This limited engagement (Closing January 2) production shows Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight playing two actors (big stretch). The play itself details the relationship of these two men from a “backstage theatre life” perspective.

The production is playing The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.