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Sex, Marriage, and Betrayal on the New York Stage this Season

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Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig, Rafe Spall

Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig, Rafe Spall

 

By curious coincidence, three of the most anticipated plays on Broadway this season – Betrayal, Domesticated, and Macbeth – explore the subject of marriage, infidelity and betrayal, offering, as a package, new insights into these timeless themes.

Betrayal
by Harold Pinter

Creative Team:
Mike Nichols – Director
Ian MacNeil – Scenic design
Ann Roth – Costume design
Brian MacDevitt – Lighting design
James Murphy – Original Music
Scott Lehrer – Sound design

Cast:
Daniel Craig – Robert
Rachel Weisz – Emma
Rafe Spall – Jerry

Harold Pinter’s 1978 classic Betrayal, which opened Oct. 27 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and stars Daniel Craig and his real-life wife Rachel Weisz and another fine British actor Rafe Spall, follows an extramarital affair over the course of a decade. The story is told backwards, so Pinter begins with the lovers, Weisz (as Emma) and Spall (as Jerry), both of whom have betrayed their spouses, long after their passions have cooled. They are sitting in a London café, talking, reminiscing, perhaps questioning whether or not there might be something still there. Before long, the cost of their infidelity comes clear. Emma’s marriage is in tatters after not only hers, but also her husband’s infidelities, have just been revealed in an all night wake of tears and passion. What’s to become of her without her husband Robert (played by Craig)?

Pinter’s long pauses, decidedly shortened here by director Mike Nichols, leave much to the audience’s imagination, but we are left more in the dark than usual. I think Pinter works best when the actors have done their homework and fill in the playwright’s sometimes exasperating blanks themselves. They should know what they are doing and why, even if Pinter does not always make it clear. As stunning as film stars Weisz and Craig (the current James Bond) are to look at, it’s not clear to me that they have done this. We are left with a rather flat, decidedly ho-hum string of infidelities with neither character seeming to care what happens through all of this. Spall on the other hand, albeit helped by Pinter’s more fleshed-out backstory, is more animated, clearer in his intentions. In the final scene, we see his blind passion, which began the affair despite the added risk of betraying his long-standing friendship with Emma’s husband. What is Pinter saying? That all of this is a dangerous game, where everything is on the table and can be lost – or not? While he leaves us with Emma’s broken marriage, Jerry’s marriage to a hard-working (and seemingly oblivious) nurse is safe after the long affair. His passion has been quelled; and his life still in order. How neat and tidy… This may have paralleled Pinter’s experience in his own extramarital affair, the inspiration for the play.

Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf in Domesticated at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center. Photo Joan Marcus.

Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf in Domesticated at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center. Photo Joan Marcus.

Domesticated
By Bruce Norris

Creative Team:
Anna D. Shapiro – Director
Todd Rosenthal – Sets
Jennifer von Mayrhauser – costumes
James F. Ingalls – Lighting
John Gromada – Sound

Cast:
Vanessa Aspillaga – Pilar, Judge, Principal, EMT, Woman in Veil, Hostess
Mia Barron – Bobbie
Robin De Jesus – Bar Patron
Jeff Goldblum – Bill
Lizbeth Mackay – Jackie, Patient
Emily Meade – Casey
Laurie Metcalf – Judy
Mary Beth Peil – Shrink, Ed, Rich Woman, Doctor
Karen Pittman – A.D.A., Talk Show Host, Cop, Translator
Aleque Reid – Becky, Stage Manager, Bartender, Server, Orderly, Tour Guide
Misha Seo – Cassidy

Turn up the decibels on infidelity, add the glare of the public scrutiny, children, and raw, uncensored language and you have Bruce Norris’s new play Domesticated, which opened Nov. 4 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in Lincoln Center. Here, Norris dissects sexual passion and infidelity as he did race relations in his 2012 Pulitzer-prize winning play Clybourne Park. He said in a post performance chat with the audience that the idea for the play has been “simmering” since the Monica Lewinsky scandal with President Clinton in the late 1990s. “I knew I wanted to do something with a public figure defamed,” he said. Domesticated begins under the glare of television lights and the public resignation of a prominent politician named Bill (Jeff Goldblum) for revelations of his sexual relations with prostitutes; his supportive wife Judy (Laurie Metcalf) is by his side as the cameras roll. But the revelations keep coming and coming, splintering his family as much as his wife tries to keep everyone together. The shifts back and forth between public and private views in the aftermath of Bill’s resignation offers a fascinating perspective; and what is said around the couple’s dinning room in the privacy of their home simply takes your breath away. (I saw one woman in the theater the night I was there covering her face with her hand.) The language in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf seems almost tame in comparison. The couple’s older daughter lashes out against her father with “You’re a buffoon!” and it gets worse from there. Meanwhile, the couple’s quiet younger daughter explores (for a class presentation) the strange, curious and cruel relations between mating pairs in the animal kingdom as if to say this mutually inflicted torture that humans engage in is perhaps not so unusual after all.

After his public resignation, Bill is almost silent in the first act as his wife wails at him in rage and disbelief. In the second act, Bill recovers his voice (and his own sense of outrage) but struggles painfully to regain his life professionally and personally. He is a gynecologist and his indiscretions make his patients and his female colleagues understandably uneasy. He does no better with any of the women he encounters, even his own daughter, and his mounting frustration unleashes torrents of anger and despair, soliloquies for misunderstood and downtrodden men everywhere. Norris certainly raises more questions than he answers during this emotional roller coaster ride, not the least of which are the potential redemptive powers of love and forgiveness. It’s an extraordinary, complex and thought-provoking play, skillfully shaped and directed by Anna Shapiro, who has worked with Norris on seven of his previous plays.

Francesca Faridany and Ethan Hawke in Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center. Photo T. Charles Erickson.

Francesca Faridany and Ethan Hawke in Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center. Photo T. Charles Erickson.

Macbeth
By William Shakespeare

Creative Team:
Jack O’Brien – Director
Scott Pask – Sets
Catherine Zuber – Costumes
Japhy Weideman – Lighting
Mark Bennett – Original Music and Sound
Jeff Sugg – Projections
Steve Rankin – Fight Director
David Brian Brown – Hair & Wigs
Angelina Avallone – Make-up

 

Cast:
Bianca Amato – Lady Macduff
Shirine Babb – Macbeth Attendant
John Patrick Doherty – Cathness
Anne-Marie Duff – Lady Macbeth
Austin Durant – Murderer, Siward
Richard Easton – Duncan
Francesca Faridany – Hecate
Stephanie Fieger – Harpier
Malcom Gets – Witch
John Glover – Witch
Ethan Hawke – Macbeth
Ben Horner – Murderer
Ruy Iskandar – Donalbain
Brian d’Arcy James – Banquo
Byron Jennings – Witch
Paul Kite – Paddock
Aaron Krohn – Rosse
Jeremiah Maestas – Seyton
Christopher McHale – Old Man, Doctor
Jonny Orsini – Malcolm
Sam Poon – Macduff’s Son
Triney Sandoval –Menteth
Nathan Stark – Fleance
Daniel Sunjata – Macduff
Patrick Vaill – Graymalkin
Tyler Lansing Weaks – Young Siward
Derek Wilson – Lennox

Next door at Lincoln Center Theater in the Vivian Beaumont, is Jack O’Brien’s production of Macbeth, starring Ethan Hawke and Anne Marie Duff, a talented and striking English actress making her New York stage debut, which opened last night. This must be the scariest Macbeth ever produced. The set, lighting, original music and sound, projections, and make-up are all sure to win Tonys. There is not just a storm; there’s a maelstrom of clouds, wind, rain that makes you reach for an umbrella. The stage of the theater is completely transformed and experience feels more like a 3-D movie that audience is actually in rather than a play being watched somewhere out there. I think this is a game changer for theatrical productions. Hawke as Macbeth and sensuous Duff as Lady Macbeth play a strong couple, obviously in love, who can barely keep their hands off each other whenever they are together. The chamber scene is played on a bed with a bare-chested Hawke and Duff in a thin nightgown revealing her body. Shakespeare’s strongest marriage seems an even more powerful union here and husband and wife are very much equal partners in the traitorous killing of the king as he overnights in their castle. In Shakespeare, least we forget, there are dire consequences to betrayal – nightmares, visions, madness, and, yes, death. As strong a couple as they are, they cannot save each other from their shared fate. The fall from grace is swift, without mercy, and here deliciously terrifying.

Hawke has struggled during previews with the play’s demanding dialogue, both in being heard and being understood. In many places he seems to be just rushing through the lines as if not to treat the poetry too preciously but does so at the cost of not making the language comprehensible. This is a problem if even the ushers in the theater were grumbling about it as they were the night I was there. One assumes he will improve steadily as the run continues. Duff, on the other hand, inhabits her role seamlessly; her sleep-walking scene is brilliant and haunting. O’Brien has very deliberately amplified the dark, evil forces at work in the play and so Francesca Faridany as Hecate, a part often trimmed in Macbeth productions, here is given full reign as queen of the witches and seducer of Macbeth in a magnificent Medusa-like headdress. In a brilliant bit of casting, O’Brien makes all the witches men with beards and hairy chests very in evidence along with sagging, life-like female “breasts” showing through their clingy, black silk costumes. (A description cannot really do this justice.) Suffice to say that towering John Glover, a Tony award winning actor who appeared recently at Lincoln Center Theater in Nikolai and the Others, and his gaggle of witches with howling Patrick Vaill as a cat-like Graymalkin are some of the most terrifying creatures to have ever appeared on any stage anywhere. They also portray other minor characters in the play – a porter, a murderer, a guard – slithering in and out of their roles, suggesting that witches are everywhere, further taunting Macbeth and precipitating his fall.

You may have nightmares from this production of Macbeth, but it certainly should not be missed.

About the author

Louise Levathes

Louise Levathes is a senior editor at The Berkshire Review and New York Arts and writes about art, theater, and public spaces. She lives in Washington, DC.

Click here to read her articles on Berkshire Review.

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