Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand appear in “Macbeth” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (Courtesy kevinberne.com)

Conleth Hill and Frances McDormand appear in “Macbeth” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (Courtesy kevinberne.com)

Star-studded ‘Macbeth’ never fires up

The new Berkeley Repertory Theatre production of “Macbeth” opens on a particularly bleak scene – a blasted tree on a barren heath, with a bloodied body tied to it. With the three Witches of Shakespeare’s tragedy circling, a savage, supernatural force rips the tree up by the roots.

It’s a potent image, and, sadly, nothing else in director Daniel Sullivan’s production quite comes close to it. Although Sullivan proves skilled at putting the play across with clarity — no small feat — the raw power that fuels this timeless tale of murder and madness is mostly in short supply.

This “Macbeth” is one of the season’s most hotly anticipated productions, chiefly because of its leads: Conleth Hill in the title role, and Frances McDormand, who, in an interesting bit of casting, plays both Lady Macbeth and one of those Witches.

Hill, best known as Lord Varys on “Game of Thrones,” is an articulate Macbeth, but his performance suggests a middle-management type in over his head; his great soliloquies especially lack gravitas. The character’s “vaulting ambition,” and his fierce prowess as a warrior — described in detail in the play’s first scene — barely register.

McDormand – a Tony, Oscar, and Emmy award winner – makes Lady Macbeth a dutiful wife. For much of the opening night performance, her portrayal felt a bit recessive, never fully commanding the stage until her final mad scene.

Sullivan fills out the cast with capable performances. Christopher Innvar, the production’s vigorous Banquo, doubles as Siward, while James Carpenter — one of the Bay Area’s finest Shakespearean actors — does a deft triple turn as King Duncan, the drunken Porter and the Doctor.

Korey Jackson plays Macduff with understated eloquence. Rami Magron and Mia Tagano, along with McDormand, limn the Witches’ scenes with synchronized movement.

For the most part, this “Macbeth” benefits from Sullivan’s striking stage pictures. Scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt and lighting by Pat Collins feature dense, fog-swept exteriors and clammy-feeling spaces inside the Macbeths’ castle. Meg Neville’s costumes would be at home on “Game of Thrones.”

But not everything works. Video by Alexander V. Nichols lends the production depth, but the outsize projections in the Banquet scene are simply distracting.

Dan Moses Schreier’s musical score and sound design supply an effective layer of otherworldly chill, although the repeated use of bird cries begins to border on parody.

The play should be the thing, but alongside the underwhelming performances by Hill and McDormand, the designs often threaten to swallow this “Macbeth” whole.

REVIEW
Macbeth
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
When: Most Tuesdays through Sundays; closes April 10
Tickets: $35 to $145
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

Berkeley Repertory TheatreConleth HillDaniel SullivanFrances McDormandMacbeth

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Ali Jamalian, whose life was disrupted in the wake of being charged with possession decades ago, now heads up Sunset Connect, a cannabis manufacturing company. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Green Rush: Cannabis equity program elevates unexpected entrepreneurs

‘It’s a form of reparations for those of us who were ruined by cannabis arrest’

The Giants and Dodgers face each other again following a May series the Dodgers swept; Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux caught stealing by Giants second baseman Donovan Solano at Oracle Park on May 23 is pictured. 
Chris Victorio/
Special to The Examiner
Giants vs. Dodgers: What you need to know before this week’s huge series

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner That grinding noise you’ll hear… Continue reading

San Francisco supervisors approved zoning changes that will allow a chain grocery store to occupy the bottom floor of the 555 Fulton St. condo building. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Trader Joe’s approved for Hayes Valley, bringing long-awaited grocery store

New Seasons Market canceled plans at 555 Fulton St. citing construction delays

Shek-Woon Ng, 107, who retired at 99 from his acupuncture practice in San Francisco’s Chinatown, got a COVID-19 vaccination in June. <ins>(Courtesy Sky Link TV)</ins>
Lesson from a 107-year-old man who is now fully vaccinated

One in four seniors in S.F.’s Chinatown have not been inoculated

Most Read