I have my share of misgivings about Moises Kaufman's production of Macbeth. But I was taken aback by this objection by the New York Times' Charles Isherwood in his review: "Macbeth is not really a play about war, as King Lear is not a play about real estate."
Kaufman is a theatre artist who has constantly mined the overlap of the personal and political. From his devised docu-dramas Gross Indecency and Laramie Project to his direction of I Am My Own Wife, you know he is proud to have an "agenda." (In those works that meant examining the persecution of sexual "deviancy.") So I for one was hardly surprised he would find the most political way into Macbeth. In fact, I looked forward to it!
Last time I checked, Macbeth is a warrior. The play begins and ends with battle. War is the means if not the cause of his initial advancement and his ultimate undoing. Yes, there's a lot else going on and the play can be presented as an abstract psychological study. But is not "war play" at least one of the many genres the work can be conceived as? If we can have Mafia-Macbeths and fast-food chain Macbeths (any other Scotland, PA fans out there?), then War-Macbeths can hardly be off the table. (Note that any play that extracts the characters from their tribal warfare context has to substitute a social backdrop equally violent.)
It's not necessary to cite the Public's own ballyhooing about its self-declared "war season" to appreciate the lengths Kaufman goes to within the production itself to announce its context. He presents us upon entering the Delacorte Theatre with sentries keeping watch amidst the distant soundscape of mortar shells and the muffled oratory of some generic "great leader." The apron of the stage is strewn with rubble, the marble detritus of an august civilization gone to the dogs. The witches soon enter not as central casting hags but as female grunts, "regulars" but in nondescript fatigues and expressionist whiteface. (Kaufman has repeatedly over his short career showed himself to be nothing if not a Brechtian.) They surround a white-haired man seated center stage, consult each other, nod in assent, and crown him. He is Duncan, of course, and they the "kingmakers." The payoff for this moment comes at the end when they similarly bless Malcolm and, in a neat interpolation, repeat the play's opening lines — "When shall we three meet again?" Eternal recurrence? Setting us up for the sequel? (McB II?) I took it more as bluntly cynical: power corrupts, and wartime power corrupts absolutely. (To say nothing of "war powers.") It'll happen to Malcom just as it did to Macbeth. And who said Duncan was so great, either?