The Christian Science Monitor
February 2, 1981

'Macbeth' the Hard Way: Caldwell Directs Shakespeare


For all of her experience as opera director, Sarah Caldwell is marking her debut in the legitimate theater with this "Macbeth" at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Because of its very dimensions, her version of the Shakespearean tragedy seems more often remote and spectacular than immediate and gripping. Yet there are thrilling and moving moments.

Citing historic precedent from kean to Mrs. Siddons, Miss Caldwell has cast her "Macbeth" for youth. Thus the Macbeth of Philip Anglim and the Lady Macbeth of Maureen Anderman are invested with a believably intense and passionate marital relationship.

Mr. Anglim brings important qualifications to the role of Macbeth -- a fine speaking voice, expressiveness, and a sense of the inner conflict that haunts a man who doubts too late the equivocations "of the fiend, that lies like truth." Further playing will undoubtedly bring more depth to the soliloquies, which he tends at present to declaim.

The svelte Miss Anderman, auburn-wigged and magnificently costumed by Carrie Robbins, moves with impressive confidence through Lady Macbeth's transformation from fierce partner in regicide to haunted sleepwalker. Even having to maneuver the intricacies of a spiral staircase doesn't prevent her from summoning all the horrors and the haunting trauma of that terrible scene.

The demonic forces that ultimately overtake and destroy the initially honorable soldier and his more realistically conspiring wife become part of the complex of fatal contradictions on which Shakespeare built his tragedy of vaunting, murderous ambition. Casting two such exceptionally attractive young players as the Macbeths at least in one sense heightens the tragedy.

In another important respect -- having mostly to do with visualization and logistics -- the elaborate revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theater illustrates how to do "Macbeth" the hard way.

Miss Caldwell and co-designers Herbert Senn and Helen Pond have devised an obstacle course of stairways, bridgework, and ladders which must leave a dauntless cast breathless at the end of every performance. With the huge stage being used right up to the proscenium, the decorative embellishments of banners and tapestries are overpoweringly grandiose. It is difficult to project the fine points of psychological conflict in such a large-scale picture.

The production opens with a battle-scene display of medieval martial arts as a prelude to Macbeth's first encounter with the three Witches. (Composer Edward Barnes's percussive score supplies the weird trio with some eerie measure of witchlike wailing and screeching.) Thereafter "Macbeth" moves forward as rapidly as the actors can stride the stage and climb up to and down from its elevations.

There are several strong supporting performances -- notable among them J. Kenneth Campbell (Macduff), Kaiulani Lee (Lady Macduff), Norman Snow (Banquo), Neil Vipond (Duncan), John Vickery (Malcolm), and James Hurdle (Rosse). Contributing to the visual and physical aspects of this handsome production are John Gleason's complex (but perhaps too subdued) lighting and the realistic fight sequences staged by B. H. Barry.

macbeth index