As the title character in the new Broadway production of “Macbeth,” Daniel Craig has a very unusual response when the witches first prophesize that he will be king. Craig, looking embarrassed, puts his head down and his hands in his pockets and walks a bit away, like a school boy who has been teased about a girl he likes.
His Macbeth initially strikes you as a harmless, well-meaning guy, as reinforced by speaking the character’s soliloquies directly to the audience, with Macbeth trying to work through and understand his situation.
On the other hand, Ruth Negga’s Lady Macbeth is hardly an icy portrait of pure evil, but more of a friendly, upbeat motivational coach. Her Lady Macbeth reacts to her husband’s doubts not with taunts but reassuring, feel-good encouragement.
Craig and Negga’s portrayals are original and smart – as are those of Grantham Coleman (Macduff), Asia Kate Dillon (Malcolm), Maria Dizzia (Lady Macduff), Amber Gray (Banquo), Paul Lazar (Duncan and the Porter), and Michael Patrick Thornton (Lennox) – in spite of murky direction.
Sam Gold, an acclaimed director of both contemporary drama (“A Doll’s House, Part 2”) and new musicals (“Fun Home”), has also been making his way through Shakespeare’s major tragedies in recent years, including “Othello” (with Daniel Craig, Off-Broadway), “Hamlet” (with Oscar Isaac, Off-Broadway), and “King Lear” (with Glenda Jackson, Broadway). Gold’s approach to Shakespeare tends to be experimental, conceptual, and playful.
Gold’s production of “Macbeth” is stripped-down and casual (with many actors playing multiple roles and a utilitarian scenic design), often effective (mostly due to the performances), and just as often bewildering. For instance, at the beginning, the witches are depicted cheerfully cooking. At the end, the cast comes together over soup and song. There is also a vaguely seventies design scheme, ad-libbing, and hard drinking. It’s too bad Gold can’t provide live audio commentary to explain what he is going for.
This marks the final production of the 2021-22 Broadway season, which will go down in the history books as the one where Broadway returned following the lengthy pandemic shutdown and dealt with ongoing health and safety challenges. (“Macbeth” had to shut down for a week during previews due to positive COVID test results among the cast.)
Even if one has mixed feelings about this production, it’s nice just to be back at a point where there is once again a Shakespeare play on Broadway, with a big star and a strong cast, that is doing sell-out business, and has an offbeat production concept.
Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St, macbethbroadway.com. Through July 10.