Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Macbeth"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jason Slavick

Set Design by J. Michael Griggs
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Costume Design by Molly Trainer
Sound Design by Composer Michael Vitali
Fight Choreography by Ted Hewlett
Properites by Assistanr Stage Manager Gwenmarie Ewing
Technical Director Eric Huss
Assistant Director Dani Snyder
Stage Manager Leandra Mosher

Witch #1.......................................................Laura Napoli
Witch #2...................................................Elizabeth Hayes
Witch #3..............................................................Erin Bell
Macbeth...................................................Shawn Galloway
Lady Macbeth/Ensemble...............................Anne Gottlieb
Macduff/ Murderer #2/Ensemble....................James Barton
Banquo/Lady Macduff/Hecate/Ensemble...Lisa Anne Porter
Duncan/Murderer #1/Ensemble..........................Joe Owens
Malcolm/Ensemble.............................Constantine Maroulis
Ross/Seyton/Ensemble.........................Elizabeth Wightman

This is the Best Damn "Macbeth" I Have Ever Seen: no frills, no bullshit --- just straight, honestly understood portrayals of people in conflict (often with themselves). Jason Slavick has pared this short text down to its dramatic essence and cast a brilliantly intense Ensemble who dash into this bare-stage Scotland in one, two, four different costumes, every time solidly anchored in the text as a wholly new individual. The high school kids who are this production's intended audience are in for a blinding theatrical shock!

Costumer Molly Trainer has these Scottish soldiers in Loose sweaters and scarves swathed about their necks and shoulders, making it easy for a king to come straight back onstage as a scene-swelling soldier. And J. Michael Griggs has fashioned a series of rough-hewn pure-white walls either side of the stage between which people and sprites can vanish at will, while Karen Perlow's lights splash them with blue or blood red or pure white to give precise background to each scene. Michael Vitali has composed a pure drum score for three saucily malevolent witches, who are both omnipresent commentators as well as dipping into the action to play a minor role or three here and there. The watchwords everywhere are metamorphoses and metaphor, since nothing in this madman's dream is ever what it seems.

I think that the Boston theatre Works learned, from Lisa Volpe's production of an "all-girl Shrew" that gender is irrelevant to the essence of Shakespeare, and that lends a whole new dimension to this "Macbeth". I don't mean that this is simply a sex-blind production: Every major role is properly cast: Macbeth is Shawn Galloway and Lady Macbeth Anne Gottlieb as is expected. But Gottlieb appears first as the wounded soldier bringing praises of Macbeth's battlefield victories, and she reappears at the end again as a common soldier. But Lisa Anne Porter is Banquo --- then Lady Macduff, then Hecate --- before merging into the mass of soldiers come to Dunsinane. Joe Owens is indeed the noble Duncan and James Barton the stricken Macduff, though both become Banquo's murderers, just like Constantine Maroulis the hesitant Malcolm playing common soldiers . In short, if you expect the faces of actors to remain fixed in character, read the play before you see it, and be prepared for surprises. (All those high-school kids will!)

Shawn Galloway and Lisa Anne Porter have specialized in Shakespeare up and down our Left Coast, and she and Anne Gottlieb were in Lisa Wolpe's "Shrew", which was ground-breaking in style. In both "Shrew" and "Macbeth" intense realizations of the text and its eternally human interchanges make outward trappings irrelevant. This exciting show is a perfect antidote to the A.R.T. style of strangling Shakespeare with distracting decoration.

Galloway's initially happy warrior is both impulsive and suspicious --- and no wonder, with those tricky Witches' false/true predictions! But he is indeed prey to a "strange infirmity" that makes him see ghosts and even sends him for a moment into an almost epileptic seizure when that ghost is of newly murdered Banquo. He seizes power yet cannot hold it for the very excesses used in trying to preserve it. And, at every turn, a vibrant awareness of his every twist and countertwist of thought plays out in speech and action. It is like watching the soul of a shaky monarchy fight with itself.

It is the calming, resolute ambition of Gottlieb's queen that soothes and urges him. She matches his intensity, and his love --- for this is indeed a loving couple, easy enough with one another to bicker, and to seal all with kissing. And she is easy also with the flowing poetry of this play, letting the beauty of the words shine yet never losing the bite of their sense under it. She seems --- as do they all --- to be a person intensely illuminated by verse.

The over-familiar phrases, speeches and scenes come new-minted here by an inner conviction that they mean something. Take James Barton's unbelieving Macduff repeating of his murdered family "My children too? ... My wife killed too? ... All my pretty ones?" and down through "I must first feel it as a man" to the vengeful resolve of "within my sword's length set him!" The words spill out of his tense, wracked body in a sudden jumble of heart-shaking grief and wrath.

Jason Slavick has carved this text back to its essence, with one surprising trade-off: he does not allow the drunken porter to pretend to admit an endless stream of invisible sinners into hell [ I do believe this survived only because Will Kemp the comic did it ex tempore ] : instead, we are given Hecate, mistress of the Witches' charms, whose sudden, black-robed, rhymed appearance ends the first act with the fearful prediction "Come, let us make haste; she'll soon be back again!" and opens the second with Macbeth come to the weird sisters to be deluded by their clever truths.

Ah, those Witches!
They do indeed "dare/ to trade and traffic with Macbeth/ In riddles and affairs of death" and smile and snicker at men's woes and folly. But they are all the servants and messengers as well, still in their wispy white cloud-like gauze yet, for the moment, in the action then, smirking, out of it. It is their drums and occasional bells that provide Michael Vitali's score, underscoring and punctuating the action at nearly every turn, whether hovering slyly at its edges or threading through the core. Laura Napoli, Elizabeth Hayes and Erin Bell are dancing sprites who seem, at every turn, to know the tragic future and to find it sardonic fun. Thus it is chilling, at play's end, when new King Malcolm surveying his worthy thanes, seems suddenly to see them as well!

In the past, Shakespeare has seemed what farmers call a "cash crop": a way of getting education dollars to pay for bringing The Bard to schools and letting them see his texts as they were intended. But this is no educational exercize. "The two Jasons" and this stunning cast have re-invented The Scottish Play in terms anyone of any age can understand. And luckily, after the kids get their crack at it mornings, the rest of you can experience it in the evenings as well.
No one, of Any Age, should miss it.


"Macbeth" (22 February - 13 March)
Tremont Theatre, 276 Tremont Street. BOSTON MA
1 (617)728-4321

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