Sunday, February 5, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Macbeth 1969 -- Long Wharf

Jackie Chung, Barret O'Brien, McKinley Belcher III, Socorro Santiago and Shirine Babb. Photo: Joan Marcus
Macbeth 1969
World Premiere of Eric Ting's adaptation of the Skakespeare Classic
Directed by Eric Ting
Long Wharf Theatre

It's Christmas time, 1969 in a small town in middle America, where soldiers returning from the Viet Nam war deal with post-traumatic stress and are tended to by three nurses. The play is arranged into 13 scenes, all played out in a hospital room with three beds (Mimi Lien, set design) in front of a nurse's station that doubles as a place where memories haunt (made possible by excellent sound and music design by Ryan Rumery and lighting design by Tyler Micoleau. Macbeth (McKinley Belcher III), an injured soldier, soon finds himself involved in a plot to kill Duncan (George Kulp), a politician and hero from an earlier war. Urging him on is his wife (Shrine Babb). More murders follow, including draft dodger Macduff (Barret O'Brien) and his pregnant wife (Jackie Chung) and the blood on their hands (lots of it) throws Macbeth and his wife into madness and downfall. Other main characters include the head nurse (and fellow witch with the other two actresses) played by Socorro Santiago and Banquo, also played by O'Brien.

The idea is good -- one of the few modernizations of a Shakespeare Play where the setting doesn't seem contrived. The flashback scenes are nicely staged and a hospital curtain used to section off part of the stage is very clever. A scene where the three nurses, who also play wives/witches, recite the "double, double toil and trouble" lines is enhanced by electronic verb. Ting's subtle touches, like McDuff's wife not being able to get him on the phone, make us smile. A scene where Macbeth and his wife have sex in the hospital bed gives new insight to a old passage of dialogue.

If you aren't familiar with the story of Macbeth, you might have trouble following this tale, particularly with actors assuming various roles without and real costume changes (Toni-Leslie James, design). It isn't very clear why Lady Macbeth suddenly feels guilty, for example, and for some, it wasn't clear that she was Lady Macbeth at that point.... The program includes a synopsis with a scene breakdown (usually this is a clue that you are going to have trouble following along).

A number of people were catching a few Zzzs the night I attended -- until the hospital fire alarm sounded when Duncan's corpse was found -- and I have to admit that I found it quite amusing to watch them lurch to a fully awake state. There's a whole lot of blood and we have to wonder why these hospital workers never use plastic gloves before sticking their hands in it (one problem with updating a classic to modern times is that current thought encroaches stealthily, sort of like Birnam Wood). One nurse mopped up some of the blood on the floor, but left an alarming amount on one section of the stage bringing to mind "out, out damn spot" long before she uttered the line.

Other information:
The show runs through Feb. 12 at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage I, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven.
Tickets are $40 to $70 and can be purchased by calling 203-787-4282 or by visiting

See a video of the production by Jacob Bricca here:

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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