“Android/Schizoid: A Post Modern Rendition of Macbeth” is not your father’s Shakespeare, or your great-great-great-great-grandfather’s Shakespeare for that matter. The performance aired Friday, Nov. 17 through Sunday, Nov. 19 in the Staller Center and may have taken more than one watch to decipher.
Following in the footsteps of such greats as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Stony Brook Pocket Theatre has put on their own “Macbeth,” this time with a postmodern twist. Postmodernism refers to a broad artistic and cultural movement characterized by irony and skepticism, or the uncertainty of human knowledge. “Macbeth” is the tragedy of the Scottish general who, after hearing a prophecy that he will be king, becomes consumed with ambition and paranoia, along with his scheming wife Lady Macbeth. Together, postmodernism and “Macbeth” are an unlikely, and at times, an unseemly pairing.
Despite the play’s apparently postmodern disposition, Shakespeare’s words and overall storyline are largely intact. That is to say, the dialogue remains unchanged from the seventeenth century original, and the actors all do a well enough job performing Shakespeare’s iambic hum. Not well enough for the Globe Theatre, perhaps, but that may be asking too much. Besides a few minor line flubs, and a handful of awkward pauses, the performers provide a strong sense of emotion and grit. The two leads, Alex Eustace and Courtney Taylor, have a wonderful intensity, establishing a strong interplay between husband and wife.
On the other side of the spectrum, this rendition manages to capture several moments of humor, which help break up the monotonous tragedy and depression of “Macbeth.” While purists may object to this choice, these comedic indulgences are not so frequent that they undermine the show’s serious focus.
At first, “Android/Schizoid” plays out in a fairly standard manner, other than the costumes: khaki jackets, black boots, and stripes and splotches of bright face paint. Macduff, for instance, has a harsh red line going down his forehead and under his eye. The face paint is, to a minor extent, a distraction, especially considering the cast’s relatively modern apparel. Meanwhile, King Duncan and Macbeth don formal, navy-colored military coats, golden epaulets and all.
It is at the murder of King Duncan, however, that the show begins its so-called “post modern” experiment. Just as Macbeth emerges on stage with bloodied hands, a projection of his gruesome misdeed appears on the background tarp. “Android/Schizoid” carries this gimmick throughout, with many of the play’s powerful moments being accompanied by video montages of surreal violence and incantation. The show also experiments with music and sound ranging from indie music and heavy metal to air raid sirens.
The multimedia aspect is not meaningless; the barrage of clips and sound effects parallel the descent of Macbeth into despair and madness. And they do, at the very least, give the play another dimension. But like the face-paint, the mixed-media can be a distraction, taking away from the actors’ actual performances.
In truth, few, if any of the postmodernist elements culminate into anything substantial, into something that sticks. This uncertainty could simply be a reflection of the skepticism of the postmodern world. Still, none of the idiosyncrasies challenge the themes and discussions brought up by “Macbeth.”
During the scene in which Macduff learns of the deaths of his wife and children, for example, several characters who are not originally in the scene — including Macbeth and his wife — appear on stage, with scripts in hand. They pace around the stage, looking down at the words, intermittently mumbling and shouting lines in unison with the scene’s primary actors. Was there an artistic purpose behind this odd choice? Or had the actors simply stumbled onto stage and forgotten their lines?
The actors, of course, had not forgotten their lines; they made it through the rest of the play without any aid. The answer, then, is that the choice was artistic. But that does not make the choice any less confusing or ill-conceived.
Nonetheless, “Android/Schizoid: A Post Modern Rendition of Macbeth” features worthy performances and a style that, while not always successful, is intriguing enough to sustain its two and half hour runtime for the most part.