New York Times
January 24, 1981

Stage: 'Macbeth' Returns


To put it simply, there can be no ''Macbeth'' without Macbeth. Such is the sad case with the Lincoln Center Theater Company's production of the play, which opened Thursday night. The evening is by no means without its incidental merits. Sarah Caldwell, the director, has conceived a commanding physical production that at times solves the problems of the Vivian Beaumont's vast stage. Her supporting cast is often outstanding, and Shakespeare's text rings through the huge auditorium with nary a word lost. But without a Macbeth, the audience might just as well go home. Miss Caldwell has erected a gargantuan theatrical contraption only to leave out the motor that would make it fly.

The nominal Macbeth of the evening is Philip Anglim, the young actor who triumphed as the physically deformed ''Elephant Man.'' Here he tries to play one of the most demanding mental cripples in theatrical literature and sinks without a trace. The problem is not his youth: there have been other young Macbeths. Nor is it his voice: declaiming diligently from his diaphragm, Mr. Anglim is capable of sounding the bass notes that are essential to the character. What's missing from this performance are merely the bread-and-butter qualities of good acting: feeling, stage presence, physical, vocal and facial expressiveness.

I don't know what this actor is up to in ''Macbeth,'' and I doubt that he does, either. In the early scenes, he is so shifty-eyed and bonkers that one expects him to be arrested for suspicion of murder before he actually commits one. He shows us none of Macbeth's equivocation or false faces until the Banquo's ghost scene, at which point his sudden, quirky smiles earn unwanted laughs. As he charges into his doom, his performance changes not a whit: there is no discernible difference between his flat, pop-eyed reading of the dagger speech and his final droning of the ''Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow'' monologue.

It's not that Mr. Anglim is misinterpreting the hero; there is no interpretation here at all. This is a Macbeth bereft of emotions - unless utter, dead coldness counts as such. The star's eyes neither make contact with those of his fellow actors nor look inward. His face is fixed in a blank, unchanging pose of mild nervousness, as if he feared he might be late for a train. His voice rarely varies in tone, and his body, which was so expressive as John Merrick, clumps about woodenly. His one, tardy attempt to summon up passion is the beginning of a sob on the line with which he greets news of his wife's death (''She should have died hereafter''). It's debatable whether the then-dazed Macbeth would start to cry at that point; in any case, Mr. Anglim turns his back on the audience rather than letting us see even the most tentative stirring of his heart.

There are lots of ways to play this tragically ambitious Scotsman - sympathetically, neurotically, wittily or even (in desperation) as a one-note blackguard. It says a lot about Mr. Anglim's Macbeth that he not only fails to inspire pity but that he also fails to arouse even the easy response of pure hatred. He is instead a strolling vacuum that swallows up the rest of the production. Though Miss Caldwell must bear partial responsibility for her star's performance, she deserves better.

Miss Caldwell does, however, inflict some wounds of her own on this ''Macbeth.'' In her debut as a theater director, she at times betrays her roots as an iconoclastic opera impresario. Much of the staging is too stately, and there are sequences that sacrifice the text for pointless visual conceits. The banquet table in the ghost scene is set perpendicular to the audience, thereby making it impossible for us to see the reactions of the guests to Macbeth's ''strange infirmity.'' The goings-on surrounding Duncan's murder unfold on a high, ''Sweeney Todd''-style bridge that puts the actors out of visual reach and also causes them to do a lot of breathless running up and down stairs.

Indeed, most of the Beaumont's Act I (three acts of Shakespeare) can be written off. Mr. Anglim is on stage much of the time, and his performance constricts the range of Maureen Anderman's wellconsidered Lady Macbeth. Duncan (Neil Vipond) and the drunken porter (Roy K. Stevens) are both inadequate, and surprisingly enough, Miss Caldwell does nothing of interest with the witches. These weird sisters include a man, whatever that means, and they sing some of their verses to ''Exorcist'' music that merely blurs the words.

John Vickery as Malcolm
John Vickery as Malcolm.
screencapture by Bamfer
But, in Act II, Duncan and the Porter are gone, and so, for much of the time, are Macbeth and the witches. As a result, Miss Caldwell's ''Macbeth'' starts to get going. Kaiulani Lee proves to be an extraordinary Lady Macduff: in her single scene, her voice careers from anger to grief to horror, and her murder provides the evening's only gooseflesh. J. Kenneth Campbell's fierce (if overslouchy) Macduff, James Hurdle's coolly cynical Rosse and, especially, John Vickery's magnetic, quixotic Malcolm transform their difficult reunion scene in England into a compelling battle of complex sensibilities. Freed of Mr. Anglim, Miss Anderman's Lady Macbeth becomes a somewhat harrowing sleepwalker - a pale, frazzled Edvard Munch figure imprisoned in nihilistic pain.

With the considerable aid of the handsome black-and-steel void of a set by Herbert Senn and Helen Pond, Miss Caldwell also creates some rending images. Miss Anderman ascends to her bedroom on a labyrinthine, winding staircase that mirrors the turmoil of her soul. The attacking army, camouflaged by Birnam Wood, comes to Dunsinane from the smoky rear of the stage like a haunted, advancing forest. The subsequent battle scenes cascade forward in mad bursts of violence that are faithful to the jagged rhythms of Shakespeare's shortest, most abruptly composed tragedy.

But by then the impassive Mr. Anglim has reappeared to die, like a crumpled toy soldier, in the distracting midst of Miss Caldwell's sound and fury. One would like to say that nothing became this ''Macbeth'' like the protagonist's leaving it - but in this doomed production, I'm afraid, Macbeth never even arrived.

MACBETH by Shakespeare; directed by Sarah Caldwell; settings by Herbert Senn and Helen Pond; costumes and apparitions by Carrie Robbins; lighting by John Gleason; sound by Richard Fitzgerald; fight coordinator, B.H. Barry; music composed by Edward Barnes.

Presented by the Lincoln Center Theater Company, Richmond Crinkley, producer. At the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th Street.

Lady Macbeth Maureen Anderman
Macbeth Philip Anglim
Caithness and MurdererIvar Brogger
Young Siward and Rosse Aide Robert Burns
Macduff J. Kenneth Campbell
Seyton and Captain Jarlath Conroy
Witch Michael Dash
Lennox Kelsey Grammer
Witch Ellen Gould
Witch and Lady Cordis Heard
Rosse James Hurdle
Gentlewoman, Witch and Lady Dana Ivey
Sewer and English Soldier Esquire Jauchem
English Soldier and Duncan Attendant Randy Kovitz
Lady Macduff Kaiulani Lee
Angus Kevin McClarnon
Fleance and Son of Macduff William Morrison
Duncan Attendant and Macbeth's Shield Bearer Conal O'Brien
Donalbain and Menteith Eugene Pressman
Witch and Lady Judith Roberts
Banquo Norman Snow
Porter Roy K.Stevens
Bishop and Old Siward Sam Stoneburner
Scottish Doctor, Old Man and Murderer Peter Van Norden
Malcolm John Vickery
Duncan Neil Vipond
Acolyte and Macduff Child Jonathan Ward

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