Macbeth and the Met – Or How I Spent My Birthday

Hello everyone! I hope you all had a great holiday weekend! I’ve been having a blast with  lots of great birthday activities. So far, we’ve had a birthday breakfast  with my in-laws, sushi  with my folks, and a lot of board games with my sister – so much fun! But for my actual birthday, Rob and I headed into the NYC. The plan was to spend the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art  and then go see Alan Cummings in Macbeth.

It was a great day. In addition to spending time with Rob and seeing some great art, I got to play around with the Nikon D5100 that I got for Christmas. I have been taking some photography classes and have been trying to make the leap from relying on my camera’s pre-set modes to shooting in manual and the Met had so many cool things to shoot that it was a good place to get some practice photography in.

But one of the highlights of the trip was a special exhibit – the African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde exhibit, which didn’t permit photography. Still it was pretty cool and I highly recommend you check it out if you can get to the Met before September 2nd when it closes. The exhibit focuses on the art of the Harlem Renaissance when African and African American art became all the rage for wealthy collectors. There were a lot of traditional (and traditional looking) African masks, carvings, and figurines but my favorite pieces were the ones that combined the traditional with the modern, like this painting of two African masks by Malvin Gray Johnson, which was displayed next to the two masks shown in the painting.

I also loved this painting, Negro Song II by cubist painter, Francis Picabia, which he painted after visiting a Jazz club.  It reminds me of one of my favorite  short stories from the Harlem Renaissance, Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin  and made me wish that the Met had made a multi-medium exhibit with music and literature readings from the same movement. I would have loved to go to events that brought together all the different art, literature, and music of the time.

Just outside the exhibit, Rob and I found this huge wall hanging.

DSC_0059b

The sign said it was made of aluminum and copper but when Rob looked up close at it, he could see that the aluminum part was really flattened bottle caps, some of which had brand names or the word “rum” written on them. The colors of the piece (especially on that bold yellow wall) and the geometrics of the small tiles remind me of this painting but the contours make me think of a face from one of the traditional carved African masks hung nearby like these:

African Masks and Puppet
I have always been fascinated by the African masks and headdresses on display in the Met. I love the intricate carvings and painting on them, like this gorgeous antelope headdress:

African Antelope Sculpture

And some of them are so large and elaborate that you just have to wonder how someone managed to wear them without needing to see a chiropractor immediately afterwards.

African Mask

In a little alcove, just around the corner from the masks and carvings there was this little, easy to miss display of illuminated gospels and devotionals from Ethiopia. I am so glad that they caught my eye and we didn’t walk past them.

I am such a sucker for illuminated manuscripts and these were gorgeous!

Ethiopian Illuminated Bible

Ethiopian Illuminated Bible

Ethiopian Devotional

There was also a case of what looked like toppers for Bishop staffs that looked gorgeous next to the saturated color of the background walls.

Staff Toppers

This is the odd but wonderful thing about the Met. They have so many great galleries and exhibit spaces but you are just as likely to find some real gems in out of the way corners or in the most pedestrian of places. You can come out of the ladies room and find yourself in an exhibit of Faberge eggs and florals in the hallway:
Faberge Flowers

Including one of my favorite works of art, a basket of lily of the valley flowers made out of gold, pearls, and tiny diamonds made for the Tzarina of Russia.

Faberge Lily of the Valley

When you want to get some lunch, you line up to order behind these pillars.

Tiffany Stained Glass at the Met

Look to your left and there are some really famous and gorgeous Tiffany windows:

Tiffany Stained Glass

It seems like the Met is so full to bursting with incredible art that they have to resort to sticking stuff in hallways and corners because they ran out of room in the official galleries. This is mind boggling, especially when you consider that there is room for a purple vacuum cleaner in the modern art galleries. *shakes head*

Anyway, after we finished the African Art exhibit, we just wandered around, stopping to look at whatever caught out eye.

European Sculpture and Tapestries at the Met

It seems that we almost always end up seeing this statue of Leda and the Swan every time we visit the Met.

Leda and the Swan

I am constantly struck between the contrast of this sculpture and Yeat’s poem. In this version, the violence and violation of Zeus’ rape are nowhere to be found. In fact, Leda almost looks like the aggressor with her hand around the swan’s neck.  From years of visiting our local duck pond, I can tell you that Swans are not petting animals. They can be quite aggressive and it is best to give them their space so I give more credence to the Yeats version than I do to this sculpture but I guess when you have already bought into the idea of a god turning himself into an animal to seduce some girl, it doesn’t take too much more suspension of disbelief to imagine a swan tame enough to approach.

I stopped to take some photos of this bust which Rob swears is of American Idol contestant, Casey Abrams.

Bust

These tiny figurines of actors were really adorable!

Figurines of Actors

But one of my favorite discoveries of the day was this piece by Cordier:  La Capresses Des Colonies (The Goat Tender of the Colonies).

The Goat Tender of the Colonies

The Goat Tender of the Colonies

I love the combination of the marble and the bronze. Her face is simply gorgeous and her earrings and the feather in her hair are just fabulous! I was surprised when I read the plaque and found out this was a bust of a shepherdess. Her jewelry, the feather in her hair, and what I thought was a wrap or a stole, made her look so sophisticated that I thought she was a lady from the roaring 20’s on her way out to an evening at a jazz club.  Either way, La Capresses was a gorgeous woman and I am glad that we meandered down the hall where I found her.

There was so much more that I wanted to see but, with theater tickets for 7:00, Rob and I left the museum fairly early and headed out to dinner before the show. Originally, we were planning on getting sushi at a restaurant by the theater but we passed this pizza place with a chicken parm. pizza that looked so good, we decided to get a slice or two instead. The pizza was amazing as was the cheesecake that we got to finish off the meal!

The theater was right across the street from where we ate (which was great because we didn’t have too far to go in the rain).

Macbeth at the Barrymore Theater

In keeping with theater tradition (and superstition), the Barrymore had this sign on the door:

The Scottish Play

Of course, after walking up two flights of stairs to get to our seats, one of the first things Rob did was evoke the name of the Scottish Play so he had to go back down the stairs, go outside, turn around, spit and curse to dispel the bad luck.

The play itself was incredibly disturbing, incredibly creepy, and incredibly cool. Macbeth can be a very complex play, addressing themes of treachery, betrayal, and fate, but this production seemed to emphasize Macbeth’s  descent into madness as a result of his guilt. The stage was done up like scary mental institution complete with an observation window and surveillance cameras. It is here that Alan Cummings performs an (almost) one – man version of Macbeth, acting out each role in the play.

It is a testament to Cumming’s skill as an actor that he can so effortlessly switch between characters in a scene, (sometimes with subtle use of props and sometimes with nothing more than body language and the tone of his voice), without it getting too confusing or coming off as silly. Some of the dialogues between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were incredible to see.  I can’t imagine how grueling it is to carry an entire production like this. The show ran for an 105 minutes with no intermission and Cummings never holds back from a fairly intense performance so each show is a feat of endurance and strength.

I particularly liked the way the production used props to supplement Cumming’s incredible performance. A rolling chair / throne stands in for the doomed King Duncan, a child’s sweater for Macduff’s murdered son, and the all-seeing surveillance cameras (which project Cumming’s face onto three screens) transform the single actor into three incredibly weird sisters.

Rob has an interesting theory about the show, claiming to see an unspoken play within the play… a play where Alan Cummings is a father who has been committed after doing something unspeakable to his wife and son and unable to face the reality of what he has done still rehashes it over and over again through his re-enactment of Macbeth. He cited the fact that “Macbeth” wouldn’t relinquish the child’s sweater when he was committed and I would also point to some intense breakdown moments when Macduff learns that his family has been murdered and when Macbeth speaks his famous soliloquy after learning of Lady Macbeth’s death, barely able to deliver the line:It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” which may indicate that the tale this idiot has to tell may be, in fact, full of more significance than he is willing to admit. Either way, this production is a fascinating new take on a well-known play and Alan Cummings (and the creative team associated with it) should all be commended on an incredible job

Want to check out the rest of my photos? You can see them here on Flickr

About Ciarrai

Hi. My name is Kerry but here online I tend to go by the Gaelic version of my name, Ciarrai. I am a woman in my mid-30's who lives on Long Island, NY, with my husband, Rob, several guitars, a Nikon D40, more yarn, beads and books than I care to admit to and a cat who has a million nicknames and quite a few theme songs. I have a B.A. in Psychology and have recently returned to college to pursue a teaching degree so that I can eventually get a job as a High School English teacher. In addition to my major obsessions (Reading, Beading, Knitting, Music and Photography), I also enjoy playing Board Games, going to Renaissance Faires, Museums and Broadway Musicals.
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One Response to Macbeth and the Met – Or How I Spent My Birthday

  1. Pingback: Literary Heroine Blog Party | Ciarrai Studios

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