It’s hard to imagine a production of Macbeth with more sound and fury than the outré adaptation currently battering audiences on the Brooklyn waterfront in DUMBO. Two parts Shakespeare and one part Ridley Scott, this visionary spectacle is the work of Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna and the TR Warszawa theater company; it’s being staged outdoors in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge with a cast of 32 actors on a 36-foot-high set built specifically for the production.
Anyone passing by the 19th century tobacco warehouse where it’s being staged will probably have no idea that just on the other side of that old brick wall swirls a maelstrom of machine gun fire, helicopters, Elvis impersonators, smoke, and beheadings. Because the roaring Brooklyn Bridge traffic would have made the actors all but inaudible, the production’s exquisite sound design is channeled through headphones provided for each audience member. The effect is enthralling, lending the cinematic action an arresting immediacy, as everything from the pop of gunfire to the sinister whispers of Hecate are fully birthed inside the spectators’ heads. Eat your heart out, IMAX.
Heavily stylized renditions of Shakespeare often collapse under the weight of their own grandiose concepts, but in this case Jarzyna and company have managed to boldly extract the essence of Macbeth – the principals’ mad Hobbesian lust for power – and articulate it with an aesthetic that’s wholly 2008. Even though warfare is now conducted via remote video interface, somebody still has to manually behead the enemy in his mosque. In this case, that deed falls to Macbeth and his special forces in the production’s riveting first scene, when it becomes immediately clear that Shakespeare’s 400 hundred year old play is here a springboard into a courageous new creation.
Strict traditionalists should know that while much of the text is still the Bard’s – the most resonant and famous dialogue is still in place – Jarzyna’s added his own contemporary flourishes to this remix. And while the language may be in Polish (with English supertitles), the action is universal. Toward the nightmare’s end, when Macbeth blurts out, “I am knee-high in a bloody quagmire,” we're inevitably reminded that our Polish allies in the “coalition of the willing” are also well acquainted with our current dark swamp.
TR Warszawa’s Macbeth continues through June 29th at the Tobacco Warehouse [Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, DUMBO, Brooklyn]. Tickets are sold out, but there are some $20 rush tickets released before each night's performance.