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“Keep your eye on the hacksaw,” said Linda Winer in Newsday. Audiences at this gory version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth should constantly be watching for where the next surprise attack will come from—that is, if they can, “even for a moment, pull their attention off Patrick Stewart.” The 67-year-old Shakespearean master, who gained fame in America starring in Star Trek: The Next Generation, is “a source of dark wonderment” as the Scottish king. Director Rupert Goold transplants the action from Dark Ages Scotland to Stalinist Russia, highlighting the theme of political backstabbing. But he also ratchets his production’s gore-factor high enough to make it seem a “blood relative of Night of the Living Dead.

Goold’s love of excess gives this Macbeth an enjoyable go-for-broke spirit, said Michael Sommers in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. “The show’s got projections of Soviet newsreels, an ominously screeching soundtrack,” even a murder scene in a crowded railway train car. Looking for maximum shock value, Goold’s production throws in everything but the kitchen sink—“actually, it’s got one of those, too, positioned downstage where Lady Macbeth viably tries to wash away her sins.” He even stages the play’s famous banquet scene twice. First we see it from the point of view of Macbeth, who’s haunted by the ghost of his victim Banquo. Then we get the perspective of his guests, who see no ghost and thinks the old guy is bonkers. The result is a brilliant visual spectacle. But exactly what all this “elaborate toil and trouble is meant to signify, however, is anyone’s guess.”

What holds this over-the-top production together is “the brilliant performance at its center,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Stewart’s Macbeth seems acutely aware that his every grasp for power only leads him closer to annihilation. He falls prey “to errant thoughts more appropriate for a poet or a philosopher than a military commander.” You can see why Macbeth needs a strong woman to keep him on his vengeful track. As Lady Macbeth, Kate Fleetwood has “the hard-boiled aspect—not uncommon on Park Avenue these days—of the trophy wife who has married up and is not about to relinquish her perch.” When this power couple sit together making plans in their “knife-filled kitchen,” they aren’t planning dinner.

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