All hail Vivian Beaumont and the theatre named after her! Every crevice and corner of that cavernous stage has been explored and employed to give epic grandeur to Macbeth, Shakespeare's tragedy of an ambitious man killing his way to the top. (Some call it "The Scottish Play," some call it "A Thane's Guide to Love and Murder.")
It's a massive playing area, and it requires a showman director to conquer and use properly. Jack O'Brien, an incredible visualist with a highly advanced sense of theatricality, was turned loose on the space again Nov. 21 — a kind of triumphant return, having helmed three heaping installments of The Coast of Utopia there. He came with an armada of designers committed to keeping eyes popping and dancing.
As befits a spooky, supernatural tale, you can barely see it. It draws heavily from Edward Gorey's limited palette — black and white, with an occasional splash of red, be it a crimson dressing gown or bloody hands or a vase of roses that die as murder happens. Shafts of light penetrating the darkness make their own space. In lieu of fade-outs, lighting designer Japhy Weideman simply flips a switch to jar our perceptions. Our focus is jerked for a scene down front to the back of the stage.
Scott Pask's spare, bleak set uses for its centerpiece a Middle Age mandala with movable parts that rise and lower and all manner of occult signs. The towering walls that appear at various angles around the set have been designed to show off the vastness of the Vivian Beaumont and do dizzying, disorienting juxtapositions.
Very few plays that have played the Beaumont have capitalized on its spectacular playing area. Its last tenant, Ann, was a one-woman show, starring one Holland Taylor. To go from that to a sprawling Macbeth is to run the risk of getting the bends.
O'Brien made the most of the most, not only with Utopia but also with Henry IV. Graciela Daniele did quite well splashing about Marie Christine there, as did George C. Wolfe with A Free Man of Color. But the title-holder has to be the late Gerald Gutierrez, who shoehorned half of Rhode Island into Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
"I love that space, and I honor that space," said director O'Brien when he arrived at the show's after-party. "That is our great theatre canvass, our trampoline of imagination. It goes all the way to Tenth Avenue — and, honey, I go there, too."
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