Here's hoping you weren't holding your breath. Macbeth at the Gates, currently on the boards at Southern Rep, first showed up for a preview in fall 2006 with the promise of a full run in the spring. The strange cauldron bubbling with ghoulish bits of this and that from the Scottish kingdom is finally back on full boil, and it's as peculiar as ever.
Irish playwright Michael Lovett's Macbeth at the Gates features a sort of duel to damnation by Shakespeare's dead villains, Macbeth and his lady. The blasted heath they find themselves on is an antechamber of hell where they have been doing penance for some portion of eternity. The king and his lady have been horribly misused by demons in the form of 'scaly apes." In any case, when we first meet Macbeth (David Lumsden) and Lady Macbeth (Lara Grice), they are dressed in rags and lying down on nasty turf in front of a wall of rusted corrugated iron. They are chained to the spot, but their shackles are loose enough that they can stomp around and occasionally try to rip each other's lungs out.
If it wasn't for the literary content, you'd swear it was the world of Beckett. There's another radical difference from Beckett, however: the language. Where Beckett's dialogue goes through you like a blade of steel, so that you don't realize it is poetic until afterwards, Lovett has cast his drama in an ornamental verse. Both Lumsden and Grice throw themselves into this battle royal with conviction and draw you into the increasingly rancorous struggle. If the only verbal weapons they have at hand are phrases like 'the hooded night" and 'every moment replicates the moment preceding," they nonetheless hurl them at one another like battle axes with the clear desire to draw blood.
Although the play draws heavily on our knowledge of the classic, it also extrapolates from obscure references. The third character in the drama is Graymalkin the Cat, played by an elegantly sadistic Dane Rhodes in an evening suit of black and white. Graymalkin has an ear piece that allows him to communicate with his mistresses, the Weird Sisters, who seem to be running things from offstage for their own amusement. Graymalkin grows from the barest of references in Shakespeare's original. There is also only one mention of Lady Macbeth as a mother " she tells her hubby in blood-curdling iambics that she would pluck the suckling babe from her breast and bash its brains out against a wall rather than break an oath that she had sworn, like his majesty threatens to. In Lovett's play, One of the key emotional pivots involves the more concrete existence of a Macbeth child, who was 'arrowed by his father's shaft" when the king mistook him for a boar.
In any case, Macbeth at the Gates builds to its climax through a variety of striking images, like a scale to measure a human heart against a white feather of truth, a drink of water that turns out to be blood and the embittered conjugal pair raging against one another while wearing hoods. The prize is redemption for the winner and an eternity in hell for the loser.
The first time out, Macbeth at the Gates was directed by Roy Marsden, an accomplished English actor and director (who also conceived the excellent set). This time, Marsden had a TV part he couldn't turn down, so the cast developed the staging based on a video tape of the earlier show. The apt costumes were designed by Elizabeth Parent.
Ultimately, I think, this will be a controversial play. As I noted in 2006, it doesn't set out to charm or seduce so much as to intrigue. It does this with a theatrical approach we don't often see in these parts. The performances are intense and assured, the directing inventive and astute. It's the concept and the language that are the big question marks. It's a challenging play that you and your own companion can debate for some portion of eternity.
- Lord and Lady Macbeth are adversaries after years in purgatory in Michael Lovett's play about the aftermath of Shakespeare's tragedy.