Macbeth (Shakespeare Theatre Company: APR 25-MAY 28)

When I work on a play, I think about where I’m doing it and figure out what the pulse of that city is. In this case, it’s D.C., it’s politics—and it’s also structural politics. They’d understand this idea I’d have. So I identify the place and then I figure out how to get the play into the laps of the audience, so it’s not an intellectual thing that they can just sit back and let wash over them—it feels visceral. It feels like it’s a play for them.

-Liesl Tommy, Director

Director Liesl Tommy grew up in segregated Cape Town, South Africa, before immigrating to Boston at age 15 w/ her family. She has located her Macbeth in some unnamed, majority-Muslim (note the hijabs) country in North Africa. This is a land troubled by civil war in the modern-day. The three “witches” are mysterious foreign operatives, lead by Hecate (who has a Russian accent a la Putin). 

If you’re familiar w/ the play, you’ll quickly notice that several of the originally male characters have become female: Duncan, Donalbain, Ross, Young Lennox, one of the (here only a teen) assassins, Macduff’s child, and the Doctor. This production is also influenced by House of Cards; you’ll note how Macbeth’s monologues/asides are done. (In 2013, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright explained that they modeled their Frank and Claire Underwood roles after the ultimate power couple, Macbeth and Lady M.)

I think this production will appeal more to those who are NOT so familiar w/ (or invested in) Shakespeare. As you may know, I’m NOT one of those folks (LOL)! In my opinion, there are some effective scenes, BUT as a whole, there is a LOT missing. Sometimes the energy gets low, such as the extended dance number and coronation scene. It could’ve been much shorter (as was noted in Washington City Paper). 

Above all, Macbeth offers a glimpse of the tragic themes that seemed to obsess Shakespeare—the corrupting currents of power and ambition, the inevitability of time, the toxic intimacy of husbands and wives, blood that will have blood. All of these themes can be said to equivocate, extending the play’s resonance beyond its specific context and Shakespeare’s life and times to shed insight on our own. 

-Drew Lichtenberg, Literary Manager

In the lead role, Jesse J. Perez is comfortable w/ The Bard’s language, BUT there is something missing in the way he expresses the words. 

Though he may be committed and driven, Jesse J. Perez embodies Macbeth with volume and gesture, but little else. If he is to stir and unsettle, Macbeth must convincingly reveal his inner battles — between right and wrong, between strength and weakness, between ambition and cowardice. It is found in the subtleties of the language, its music, and the expressive spaces in between. Perez misses these opportunities, choosing instead a broad and agitated brush. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

Nikkole Salter does a  fine job as Lady Macbeth; the audience seemed to like her performance. Her Lady M is an alpha female, for sure! The way she interacts w/ her husband make their marriage seem like one of convenience, NOT passion (as I’ve usually seen portrayed onstage and film). Salter has command of the language, which contributes to an exciting presence. 

As one watches the appealing earnestness and latent dark energies (seen to great effect when he turns into a ghost) of McKinley Belcher III’s Banquo, the friend so cruelly betrayed by Macbeth, it’s hard not to wonder what he might have done with the title role. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

It took me a few minutes, BUT I recognized Belcher from PBS’ Mercy Street. Now that may NOT be the most interesting show, BUT his character is a pretty interesting/conflicted man. As for Corey Allen, his Malcolm is VERY effective. This is a leading man in the making, no doubt! 

It’s an interesting take on Macbeth the story, but it has a crippling effect on Macbeth the character. Tommy has replaced the godhead (or, at least, the Meddlesome Fortunetellers) with Uncle Sam, but Shakespeare wasn’t interested in puppets. 

By amputating the supernatural elements, STC has grounded Macbeth on the human plane, which was its intention. Attempts to make the man “resonate” with 2017 theatergoers, however, rob him of his twisted, fatalistic nobility. This is the worst character Shakespeare still liked, not some banana republic placeholder.

Brightest Young Things

Indian-American actress Anu Yadav (who I saw last year in The Who and The What at Round House Theatre) is part of the company; she plays an assassin and maidservant to Lady Macbeth. Later on, I saw in the playbill that Lady Macduff was also played by a South Asian actress- Nilanjana Bose.

Myra Lucretia Taylor (who was interviewed recently on WETA) provides some (much needed) humor as the Porter. In another small role, the Doctor, she brings gravitas. Taylor is obviously comfortable w/ Shakespeare’s language! 


Catastrophe (Amazon): Season 3

A poster for Season 3 of the series.

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

…“Singles in America” study that I do with, we ask them, “What must you have in a relationship?” And, “What’s very important?” And they must have somebody they can trust and confide in. They must have somebody who respects them. They must have somebody who makes them laugh, which actually is very important biologically.

-Dr. Helen Fisher (Biological Anthropologist)

…Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney can communicate so much with raised eyebrows or a sour expression.

Catastrophe has given this couple so many chances to wash their hands of one another, but one of the show’s underlying strengths is that they so clearly don’t want to. Because they’re connected in so many different ways…

-AV Club

Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) with their son in the ER.

Rob Morris (Rob Delaney) and Sharon Norris (Sharon Horgan) are back for Season 3 of their irreverent, funny, yet still romantic, comedy. By this time of life- Rob is 40, while Sharon is 44- the romance is in the commitment; this something that Dr. Helen Fisher noticed from an esteemed Chinese relationship expert, NOT unlike herself. In America, we value falling in love, BUT in China, they focus on the long-term. 

Mia (Carrie Fisher) talks on the phone with her son Rob.

Fisher appears in only a handful of episodes overall, her appearances are extremely memorable.

-Collider (on actress Carrie Fisher’s last performance)

The themes and events in this season are the darkest yet, though there are still laughs to be had (no matter if the viewer is single, married, or something in between).  In the first episode, Sharon wonders what exactly happened w/ that younger man in the Season 2 finale. She thinks of returning to her teaching job. Rob is still a stay-at-home dad, BUT financial reasons could compel him to get back work. 

Rob (Rob Delaney) is shocked by his own behavior to one of the other parents.

Their families and friends are going through some issues of their own. Sharon’s younger brother, Fergal (Jonathan Forbes), moves his family to Spain (where his wife is originally from). Sharon’s close friend, Fran (Ashley Jensen), is feeling lonely and insecure re: aging. Fran’s ex-husband, Chris (Mark Bonnar) is one of the MOST quirkiest, BUT also most loyal/dependable, friend characters in modern TV. I esp. LOVE how he is there to listen to Rob, BUT doesn’t judge. There is a LOT more going on (including some notable guest actors), so do check this show out yourself! (FYI: Season 4 has been confirmed.)

The Night of the Hunter (1955) starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, & Lillian Gish


A poster of the film

[1] Great art transcends time, but The Night of the Hunter has not lost an iota of relevance (or quality).

[2] Whoa. Lighting, framing, performances, all so unsettling…

[3] Robert Mitchum is fantastic, but Lilian Gish steals it for me.

#TCMParty (from recent live-tweeting session)

Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum)

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them. -Rachel Cooper (in the prologue to the film)

I saw this VERY effective (and a BIT scary, even for adults) film for the first time recently on TCM. It was directed by actor Charles Laughton, who hit it out of the ballpark on his first (and only) try. It was a box office failure, perhaps b/c it seems way ahead of its time (as several critics/viewers have written). 

Spike Lee paid homage to this film, which is one of his faves, in Do The Right Thing; Radio Raheem wears love-hate on his knuckles. 

Radio Raheem (Do The Right Thing)

[1] Mitchum is tremendous in the title role, his role is larger than life and was also slightly playing with fire in it’s portrayal as a reverend as corrupt or evil. Chapin is really wonderful as young John and has a much better character than some of the others in the cast. Winters is good in her performance.

Lillian Gish is another luminous presence in the film because she projects no-nonsense kindness and sweetness toward the children she takes into her home.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

Later on in life, Mitchum said that Laughton was his favorite director and this was his favorite role. Laughton originally offered the role of Harry Powell to Gary Cooper, who turned it down as being possibly detrimental to his career.

Harry (Mitchum) talks with Willa (Shelley Winters)

In this parable of good and evil, Harry Powell is the ultimate boogeyman – a relentless, nightmarish force who preys on children and it is even suggested by John that he doesn’t even sleep. …he often casts imposing shadows and is sometimes seen as a lone figure in the fog, almost a mythical force of terror.

-Excerpt from blog post (Plain, Simple Tom Reviews) 

It’s the time of the Great Depression somewhere in the Midwestern U.S. In the process of robbing a bank of $10,000, Ben Harper (Peter Graves) kills two people. Before he is captured, he is able to convince his son, John, and very young daughter, Pearl, not to tell anyone, including their mother, Willa (Shelley Winters), where he hid the money (inside Pearl’s cloth doll). Ben is captured, tried and convicted. Before he is executed, Ben is put in the state penitentiary with a cellmate, Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), who calls himself a preacher (and dresses as such). However, he is really a con man and murderer, swindling rich/lonely widows before he killing them. Harry does whatever he can to find out the location of the $10,000 from Ben, but is unsuccessful. After Ben’s execution, Harry decides that Willa will be his next mark, figuring that someone in the family knows where the money is hidden. Despite vowing not to remarry, Willa ends up being easy prey for Harry’s outward charms. Her gullible older friends/neighbors (The Spoons) help convince her that a husband is a MUST to help raise kids.