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“I want magic,” says the madwoman. Wait, that’s Streetcar, and Blanche DuBois is wispy-crazy, pretty-crazy, picturesquely crazy. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, is meant to be scary crazy, and then pitiably crazy, which is why soaking her white nightgown in a wash of sticky scarlet, however deftly the illusion of internal bleeding is managed, might not be quite the thing to serve the story: If you’re hearing “Out, damned spot” and thinking of Carrie, the play’s not quite the same thing.
As you may have heard—nothing like a national celebrity to inspire an aggressive marketing campaign—the usual spooky effects are getting a boost in the Folger Theatre’s new Macbeth, courtesy of the illusionist Teller. (No word from Penn; we’ll assume he’s off tarting up a Midsummer somewhere.) Now, tricking out Shakespeare’s supernaturally Scottish Play with floating daggers and evaporating witches and veritable waterfalls of gore wouldn’t seem to be the worst idea: This play’s less high art than hot-blooded entertainment, you might argue, an Elizabethan action flick written more for the groundlings than for the poets. Nothing wrong with giving it the summer-blockbuster treatment, all noise and flash and special effects.
If that’s your thing, g’head. Me, I like a little character development in my thrillers, and when everything from your concept to your ad campaign is busily encouraging patrons to keep an eye out for the next illusion, questions of motivation tend to get pushed aside.
As does the not inconsequential work being done by some gifted actors: Ian Merrill Peakes and Kate Eastwood Norris, two Folger favorites, inspire shivers more than once and guffaws in several unexpected places. “You have misplaced the mirth”—Lady M’s stern line to her alarmed husband at that ghost-plagued banquet—has never sounded quite so much like a punch line, and Peakes’ exasperated reaction at the news of Macduff’s mom’s Caesarean section couldn’t be droller.
Which is, in its way, another problem: Teller and co-director Aaron Posner appear to be having so much fun with the magic and the mirth that they lose track of whether they want Macbeth and his missus to be old-school horrifying or postmodern ironic. They’re both by turns but never successfully both at once—which means that, Carrie moment and all other things considered, this Macbeth plays a little too much like Scream.