The dainty vi­o­lence of a des­per­ate house­wife

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Maia Silber Lau­rie Sparham, Road­side At­trac­tions

Equinox Theatre Com­pany’s “Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story”

July 28-Aug. 19: Mu­si­cal that ex­plores the lives of two no­to­ri­ous killers. $20-$25. Bug Theatre; 3654 Navajo St.; equinoxthe­atre­den­ Ger­mi­nal Stage Theatre Com­pany’s “Seas­cape”

July 28-Aug. 20: Com­edy by Ed­ward Al­bee. $23. West­min­ster High School; 6933 Raleigh St., West­min­ster; ger­mi­nal­

Theatre Es­prit Asia’s “Com­ing to Amer­ica”

July 28-30: Two solo dra­mas about the im­mi­gra­tion ex­pe­ri­ence. $13-$26. Bas Bleu; 401 Pine St., Fort Collins; 970-498-8949; bas­ Spot­light Theatre Com­pany’s “On Golden Pond”

July 29-Aug. 26: Heart-warm­ing love story of Ethel and Nor­man Thayer and their long life to­gether. $12-$23. John Hand The­ater; 7653 E. 1st Pl.; 720-530-4596; thi­sisspot­ Square Prod­uct Theatre Com­pany’s “House of Gold” July 29-Aug. 12: Re­gional pre­miere of a play that ex­plores the Jon-Benét Ramsey case. $14-$22.

AT­LAS Black Box The­ater; 1125 18th St., Boul­der; 800-838-3006; house­of­gold.brown­pa­pertick­ En­core! En­core!’s “Seven Keys to Bald­pate”

July 30-July 15: A writer hopes to win a wa­ger that he can write a novel in the course of a day.

The Bald­pate Inn; 4900 S. High­way 7, Estes Park; 970-586-6151; bald­

Lake­wood Cul­tural Cen­ter’s “My Mother’s Ital­ian, My Father’s Jewish and I’m in Ther­apy”

Aug. 2-10: One-man com­edy about grow­ing up in a dys­func­tional fam­ily. $40-$59.

470 S. Al­li­son Park­way, Lake­wood; 303-987-7845; Lake­ Com­piled by Mark Collins, Spe­cial to the Den­ver Post ★★★★ Rated R. 89 min­utes.

Di­rec­tor Wil­liam Ol­droyd’s de­but fea­ture “Lady Mac­beth” re­turns, again and again, to a sin­gle shot: Florence Pugh, as Kather­ine — a young woman forced into a love­less mar­riage with a sex­u­ally dys­func­tional and abu­sive heir to a coal mine — sits per­fectly still on a couch, smooth­ing the thick folds of her blue gown and star­ing straight ahead. Her face be­trays no sign of the pent-up rage, wild lust or cold­blooded de­ter­mi­na­tion that, al­ter­nately, mo­ti­vate her. A cat jumps down from a cab­i­net. She re­mains mo­tion­less.

This im­age, this woman, is fa­mil­iar. She is Cather­ine Earn­shaw of “Wuther­ing Heights,” swear­ing “I am Heathcliff.” She is Emma Bo­vary and Lady Chat­ter­ley: pas­sion­ate and sti­fled. And, of course, she’s Lady Mac­beth, ask­ing the spir­its to turn her breast milk into poi­son. (Al­though there are other par­al­lels with “Mac­beth,” the film is not, strictly speak­ing, an adap­ta­tion of the Shake­spearean tragedy.) Ol­droyd’s bril­liance (and Pugh’s) is to probe this age-old archetype — the Gothic an­ti­heroine, the adul­ter­ess — and find pathos and cru­elty. It’s also to un­cover the com­plex web of hi­er­ar­chies — of race and class, as well as gen­der — that en­snare and em­power her.

Adapted by screen­writer Alice Birch from “Lady Mac­beth of the Mt­sensk,” an 1865 novella by Rus­sian au­thor Niko­lai Leskov, “Lady Mac­beth” opens in a 19th­cen­tury English coun­try­side of dense forests and rag­ing winds. But most of the film’s ac­tion takes place in­side the stark manor house of Kather­ine’s fa­therin-law, where ev­ery ob­ject — and ev­ery res­i­dent — has its place. Power passes among the mem­bers of the house­hold like a poi­son ar­row, its path shift­ing but its aim true.

Early in the film, af­ter his father mocks him at din­ner, Kather­ine’s new hus­band (Paul Hil­ton) or­ders her to stand still while he mas­tur­bates. “Don’t smile,” he says. “Take off your dress. Face the wall.” Later, Kather­ine, af­ter dis­cov­er­ing her hus­band’s work­ers hu­mil­i­at­ing Anna, a black maid, gives them a sim­i­lar or­der: “Don’t smile. Face the wall.” (She’s an­gry, by the way, not be­cause of what they’re do­ing, but be­cause they’re do­ing it on her hus­band’s time.)

When Kather­ine be­gins an af­fair with one of those work­ers, the dark-skinned Se­bas­tian (Cosmo Jarvis), it seems as though their pas­sion might up­end the rigid hi­er­ar­chy of the house. We watch Pugh be­come more con­fi­dent and more sen­sual, her eyes and skin grow­ing brighter, her laugh more de­fi­ant. When her stern father-in­law (Christo­pher Fair­bank) asks where her hus­band has gone, she shrugs: “Wher­ever you put him,” she says, rais­ing an eye­brow. But as Kather­ine re­sorts to in­creas­ingly des­per­ate means to sus­tain her re­la­tion­ship with Se­bas­tian, her ir­rev­er­ence morphs into ruth­less­ness. Rather than up­end hi­er­ar­chy, she en­forces it, con­trol­ling and crush­ing those less pow­er­ful than her.

Anna, sen­si­tively played by Naomi Ackie, acts as the film’s con­science and Kather­ine’s foil. Like a re­flec­tion in a fun­house mir­ror, she shrinks as Kather­ine grows — and be­comes more fe­ro­cious. And as the mis­tress ex­presses her de­sires and de­mands, the maid be­comes mute, trau­ma­tized into si­lence. And as Kather­ine’s be­hav­ior be­comes more ex­treme, Anna can only chan­nel her fear and rage into the dough she kneads in the kitchen. Shake­speare’s Lady Mac­beth frames un­named ser­vants for Dun­can’s mur­der, plac­ing bloody dag­gers on their sleep­ing bod­ies. Anna, with­out speak­ing a word, gives voice to their suf­fer­ing. Vault­ing am­bi­tion top­ples not only kings, it seems, but also the pow­er­less.

In “Lady Mac­beth,” Ol­droyd never al­lows us to look away from the hor­ror, fo­cus­ing, in long, in­tense shots, on the faces of his char­ac­ters as they suf­fer. But he turns our at­ten­tion, of­ten, to­ward sub­tler ac­tions: white cur­tains flut­ter­ing, a spoon gen­tly tap­ping a glass, that prowl­ing cat. These del­i­cate move­ments, jux­ta­posed against vi­o­lent acts, force us to con­sider the brutality em­bed­ded in the quiet do­mes­tic­ity of the manor house.

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