I saw Macbeth in Central Park last night and found it wonderfully good--also the outdoor setting greatly amplifies what's going on. Seeing the silhouettes of those trees over the back of the set as we get near the whole Birnam Wood thing . . . it was really, really good, hairs rose on the back of my neck at various points exactly as they should.
There was nothing cutting-edge or innovative about the production, it was all pretty much traditional (I have mixed feelings about this--good cutting-edge is incredibly exciting, bad cutting-edge distracting and pretentious), and extremely well done. Everyone delivered their lines as though they understood what they were saying, it was excellent (whoever coaches them on the line-reading stuff deserves a medal); Liev Schreiber absolutely superb, Teagle Bougere as Banquo and Sterling Brown as Macduff both also strikingly good, Weird Sisters good too, all quite delightful in other words. Jennifer Ehle as Lady M perhaps somewhat less good than the others, but more than good enough, and she looked beautiful in a very old-school Hollywood way. (She has a way of delivering her lines that I have heard before, there must be some acting teacher disseminating it out there; the effect is as though there's a sort of strangled sob in the throat, it quickly grows wearing. I was trying to think where it was so familiar to me from, and I remembered that the last show I saw in the park was that production of The Seagull with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he did exactly the same thing, only more so. I did not think that one very good, the naturalism of Chekhov isn't really suited to the large-scale acting that's necessary on that kind of outdoor stage; also it was the hottest night ever, and--this makes me think of my grandmother, it is so much the kind of thing she would have observed--all you could think about was how awfully hot and scratchy the dresses and suits the actors were wearing must be. Last night it rained quite a bit, at one point in the first half I was almost sure they were going to stop, but thank goodness they went on, it was a wonderfully good performance: I think sometimes slight adversity leads to greater intensity and concentration among the actors.)
Macbeth is really a thriller, it's partly why it's staged so often and so well (Lear in contrast is a play--does Harold Bloom say this? it's the kind of thing he would say, at any rate--scaled too large for the stage, it's so much about division and subtraction but it works by way of insane addition and supplement, like adding the whole Gloucester plot from Sidney). I remember loving Ngaio Marsh's Macbeth-based Light Thickens when I was younger; it would be much harder to use a production of Lear as a way of moving your mystery plot forward.
My main thought after seeing these two Shakespeare plays this week (other than that I love Shakespeare, & that life is good when I get to see things like this) is that I have a burning desire to see a play by Euripides in the near future. I can't say why this came on me so strongly, but actually for a long time I've had kind of a thing about him--what I really want to do is write something (possibly even a play, more likely a novel) that's basically an adaptation of The Bacchae. Something about that play's treatment of reason and irrationality speaks to me very strongly, though I found it harder to teach than any of the other plays on the Lit Hum syllabus at Columbia. In high school I once played Medea, that's an amazing play too; but The Bacchae is special....