July 28, 2018
Robed in blood and power-lust, Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth plunge into the dark side of ambition in order to force the hand of fate.
Fascinated by these proverbially thrilling roles in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, Yukio Ninagawa transposed the action from Scotland to the Azuchi-Monoyama period (1568-1600) -- a time that closely resembles Shakespeare’s era. This suits the tragedy’s ethos, because if anything, it’s about warriors battling fractured souls. Part of the Mostly Mozart Festival, Macbeth is directed by the late Yukio Ninagawa, translated by Yushi Odashima, and the two lead roles go to Masachika Ichimura as Macbeth and Yuko Tanaka as Lady Macbeth.
Framed by Japanese Shinto and Buddhist practices, scenes cut from one to the other in quick succession giving the production a picture book quality. Because of the ritualistic nature of the interpretation, there’s actually more information delivered via the production’s set design and the ichnographically significant costumes. In the visually lush setting, clipped language is punctuated by spoken syllables that rise and fall in a strong, staccato delivery.
Much of the story remains intact from the three hags prophesying Macbeth’s ascendancy to the throne to the couple’s decision to murder the king and then every other person capable of interfering in Macbeth’s claim to the crown.
However, the fierce, full warrior armor does not translate into the typical graphic bloody action.
A distinctly Japanese element is realized in the cherry tree’s presence in the middle of the stage. It becomes another character in the play. At frist, the tree is lusciously colorful and buoyed by beautiful flowers, but the brightness devolves into a petal dripping sadness that underscores the tragedy’s emotional trajectory.
One of the most memorable scenes arrives when Macbeth immerses himself in a circle of candles which he lights slowly, one after another while heavily delivering Shakespeare’s famous passage:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The sense of loss, not only of a great man, but also of one’s own soul is palpable. There are no gang-buster fight scenes -- although Macbeth wields his samurai sword with choreographic brilliance—because the real dramatic force is revealed in the way thoughts twist the minds and bodies of great men into pale human forms, sucked of honor.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis