It all begins so well. Actor Michael Patrick Thornton wheels onstage to welcome the audience and give us some background on Macbeth. The play was written during the reign of James I, who was Shakespeare’s patron and who was a scholar of witches and the author of a dissertation on the subject, Daemonologie. Thus, the witches. James also believed he was the descendant of Banquo (Amber Gray). Thus, Macbeth’s (Daniel Craig) historical accomplice becomes his fictional adversary. Thornton is a charismatic speaker, and his mini-lecture is both informing and entertaining.
And this Macbeth, directed by Sam Gold, does have its strengths. Paul Lazar, who doubles as both Duncan and the porter, brings a welcome comic spirit to an otherwise sleepy production. The violence is spare but effective, as is the smoke that curls out of the hoods of the witches.
The problem, and it is a big one, is Craig. Most weak Shakespearean performances follow the same patterns: the actor is unfamiliar with the meaning of the language; they “saw the air too much” with their hands; they overact. Craig doesn’t fall into any of these traps; instead, he underacts. Macbeth—like Richard III and unlike, say, Hamlet—is an exterior character, one who benefits from loud, bold choices. Craig is generally boring, he never quite captures his mania, using the modulation of volume as his only tool to express emotion. This monotony forces him to squander not only his richest scenes but the funnier moments, too, like Macbeth’s attempts to feign sanity after his murder of Duncan.
Ruth Negga, who plays Lady Macbeth, is a proven Shakespearean. It’s a shame that she, too, suffers from Craig’s washed-out performance. When you’re sparring with someone with half your skill, you inevitably hold back.
Macbeth runs through July 10th at the Longacre Theatre. 220 W. 48th Street New York, NY. 2 hours 20 minutes. One intermission. Photograph by Joan Marcus.