As Coen put it recently, "Shakespeare is unavoidable." He gave a resigned chuckle and added, "For better or worse."
In a filmmaking career of nearly 40 years, Coen has chronicled a spectrum of well-spoken criminals and enlightened dudes in stories inflected with varying amounts of brutality and absurdity. He has directed 18 features and written several others with his brother, Ethan.
Having built a filmography characterized by unexpected twists and turns, Joel Coen has himself taken what may seem like a surprising pivot away from that body of work. His latest film, "The Tragedy of Macbeth," is a shadowy and phantasmagoric rendition of the Shakespeare play, presented in black and white.
The movie, released theatrically in December and on Apple TV+ earlier last Jnauary, stars Denzel Washington as the murderous nobleman of the title and Frances McDormand as his scheming spouse, Lady Macbeth. It has already received numerous postseason plaudits, including Denzel Washington, whose nod for "The Tragedy of Macbeth" is his 10th Oscar nomination.
But look closer at "Macbeth," and there are aspects of the play that make it fitting and perhaps inevitable subject matter for Coen. "It's a murder story," he said. "In a way, it's even a horror story."
This somber tale may have proved an ideal escape for the director, coming at an unfamiliar juncture when Ethan had decided to take a break from film. Just when Joel was seeking new approaches to his cinematic craft as a solo director, his inspiration emerged from a foundational text of English literature.
A Reimagined"Long Day's Journey Into Night"for the COVID Era 疫情期間再現「長夜漫漫路迢迢」
文/Juan A. Ramírez
Of the time-honored classics of American theater, Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" is one that usually takes its own concept of time seriously. A four-act work based on the playwright's own dysfunctional parents, it follows the disintegration of the Tyrone family — by disease, ego, addiction and codependency — through the course of a claustrophobic August day at their seaside home in Connecticut. Widely considered O'Neill's masterpiece, it typically runs just under four hours.
Writer-director Robert O'Hara, a Tony nominee for his direction of "Slave Play," is doing it in under two.
Presented without an intermission by Audible at the Minetta Lane Theatre, "Long Day's Journey Into Night"is for a shortened production that confronts the play's themes head-on and brings them into 2022.
"There is so much velocity in the writing that it moves at a fast clip, and with so much richness," O'Hara said after a rehearsal last month. "The family doesn't get an intermission throughout this one long day, so it's quite interesting to get to sit with them in real time."
The decision to trim the material happened early and organically, O'Hara explained.
"Once you put the knife in, you're just like, 'Are we going to pretend that we're not editing this?' " he quipped. It was then bolstered by his wariness of having people gather for too long, given the latest COVID-19 variant.
"For me, it feels like a COVID production of 'Long Day's Journey Into Night,' built for right now," he said. "We didn't want to ask an audience to sit for four hours in a theater just because that's the way it's usually done. If anyone's coming in looking for that experience, they should know that it's not this."
O'Hara credits actress Elizabeth Marvel, who portrays the morphine-addicted mother, Mary, as instrumental to getting the production off the ground.
"We started just talking about this play, but then the world made its urgency all the greater," Marvel said. "I've seen probably 11 or 12 productions in my lifetime, and it's always the same: in the same drawing room with billowing curtains, and with period corsets.
"But there's absolutely no reason," she continued, "it can't be right here, right now. It very much speaks to this moment, when a lot of people are having to return home to their families, dealing with addiction and codependency during a crisis, while not being able to get out."