Terry and I got tickets to see Macbeth on the strength of the NY Times reviewer who said something like, "see this and understand why this play has been talked about for 400 years." We went in expecting to be wowed, and I must say that the performance exceeded even my extremely high expectation. We were both glad we paid extra for the "premium" seats, we were able to watch with no distractions.

I had completely forgotten the plot, I just remembered there were ghosts and witches. I kept thinking that someone got stabbed through a curtain, but when I saw Polonius was not on the cast list I knew that must have been Hamlet I was remembering. So I got to watch the play "fresh".

Shakespeare starts the plot rolling right away--I like that. Right away we get the prophecy, the next thing you know the king is dead. The Macbeths certainly weren't much for careful pre-meditation, this ain't "Ocean's Eleven", but they do pay the price for their lack of planning. On the other hand, it was a crime of opportunity, so it would have been more complicated had they waited.

Patrick Stewart plays Macbeth as an initially jovial soldier transformed by power and ambition into a mad tyrant. Terrifying in his madness--his unpredictability kept everyone around him tensed in fear. And this production doesn't spare the stage blood. I think the more realistic violence is a very effective way to prevent the viewer from keeping an emotional distance. Instead of just watching a fictional play set back in the past with castles, etc., the setting, costumes, props, acting, all give more of a feeling that you're watching a news special or documentary about the violence of a current regime. They don't change the language of course, everything is still technically in Scotland, but the costumes and setting evoke Stalinist Russia.

Having not seen or read the play recently, I did have to pay close attention to follow the language and figure out what was going on. But once I figured out that "the Macbeths are ruthless and ambitious" was the premise of the play, it was so well-acted it was easy to follow along.

Really, it was gripping. My eyes were glued to the stage, it was all both exciting and horrifying. One scene I didn't remember seeing before was the slaughter of Macduff's family. I think other productions leave that part out--there's no dialog after the family is warned that they are in danger. But actually seeing them kill the woman and children sets you up for the most emotionally powerful (in both Terry's and my opinion at any rate) moment in the play, Macduff's reaction when he is told of the massacre. At that point it doesn't "sound" like Shakespeare, it is the heartbreaking words straight from the heart of the bereaved. Michael Feast was brilliant in that scene.

The over-the-top go-see-it-now reviews are all true. Do it. If you are capable of enjoying a Shakespearean play, buy your ticket, go to New York, see the show with its current cast. You're not going to get tickets in the discount line. But if your budget dictates, it's still better to see it from the far reaches of the rear balcony than to miss it. Don't take the kids. It's brutal. That's why it's so effective. With beheadings and terrorists still commonplace around the world today, it's a sad reminder of how little humans have progressed in all these years.