Monday, September 15, 2014

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NY1 Theater Review: 'Macbeth'

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A new staging of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" starring Kenneth Branagh has just opened at the Park Avenue Armory. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

Years from now, New York audiences will be divided between those who saw the awesome "Macbeth" at the Park Avenue Armory and those who didn't. Kenneth Branagh, making his New York stage debut, also co-directed. And he, along with his flawless company, are giving theatregoers a gift for the ages.

Seldom if ever has a work of theatre been so perfectly realized in a non-traditional setting. Shakespeare's tragic tale of a Scottish general and his scheming wife felled by their own bloodlust for power is staged by Branagh and co-director Rob Ashford in the cavernous Drill Hall of the Armory.

The immense size and classic architecture allow the creative team to evoke a medieval world where battles are fought on a grand scale and witches haunt the desolate moors. From the moment the Hall's giant doors part open, you're immersed - sight, sound and smell - and it's impossible to escape the time and space-bending sensation that something wicked this way will come.

There's a filmic quality to the production designs contributing an eerily surreal effect. One candlelit end representing heaven, the other a stone-henged hell. And the elongated central playing space is filled with dirt (rendered mud) during a rain-drenched battle sequence. Audiences, stacked on both sides, peer down, as if in a coliseum.

But the physical production is only the half of it. Branagh along with his co-star Alex Kingston give the couple's monstrous ambitions a thrilling erotic charge. And in this action packed production the best feat of all is that everyone right down to the torch bearers is world class. Rarely has an entire company spoken the speech so magnificently.

I can't say enough about this glorious production but I do have one caveat. Seating is backless. Some of the benches have cushions but many do not. Outside you'll see a banner that reads "Armor Thyself." But what it really should say is "Pad Thyself."

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