I read Christopher Isherwood’s review in the Times after taking my class to see the stage-play of “Throne of Blood” at BAM last Thursday. What a deeply lazy, inattentive review. I love Kurosawa’s film too, and of course the play couldn’t work with Mifune’s “bat-wing eyebrows,” but surely we can say something about the play itself, rather than wishing we were at home with our Critereon Colletion edition of Kurosawa?
There can be something liberating about foreign language films of Shakespeare, which don’t run the risk of suffocating beneath the hyper-famous soliloquies or too-familiar performances. What my students saw in this play, which retranslates the action and the words back into English, with a few lines in Japanese for flavor, is that it helped make the narrative strange again, in some ways even stranger than the all-Japanese film with subtitles. It asks us what’s left of Shakespeare when the words all change.
As Isherwood offhandedly notes, there were a couple of Shakespearean lines in the play. Asaji, the Lady Macbeth character, said that after they murder the king and assume the throne, “all’s well that ends well.” Another character — Macbeth, I think? — insists that he will have his “pound of flesh.” These may be laugh lines, or reminders of the strangeness of the semi-Shakespearean performance. But I also think they connect to a specific genre in Shakespeare, the “problem comedy” or unresolvable comedy, in which not even the comic miracle of marriage can fully salvage the forces that have erupted onto the stage. That’s true of The Merchant of Venice (as another Times review recently noted) and also of All’s Well. One insight of this flawed but intriguing production of “Throne of Blood” was to remind the audience that it’s true of Macbeth also.