note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Carl Rossi
Performed by the Industrial Theatre
Leverett Old Library Theatre, Cambridge
October 5 through October 20
Reviewed by Carl Rossi
Any bare-bones production of a Shakespeare play means the actors are working without a net, for they bear the burden of conjuring up an entire world by words alone. Though MACBETH is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, its concentration only makes its dour world all the more vivid: the audience must feel the cold blast of the heath, smell the stench of blood, sense a near-visible evil that sweeps all before it – and breathe relief when light and justice finally pierce the darkness. Sadly, Industrial Theatre's stripped-down production of the Scottish Play only shows up the inadequacy of its company in bringing this world to life. There's plenty of energy – and, no doubt, sincerity – but there isn't a first-rate voice in the cast that can color, shape or sing the Bard's verse. What results is much empty declaiming or, even worse, hands-in-the-pockets realism with the lines crunched or cobbled into everyday speech (everyday speech should be this flowing and evocative!). Faces turn dull or tense in soliloquy, bodies go slack or wooden in ensembles, and characterizations are so lightly skimmed that until Macbeth appears with bloody hands and knives, an audience new to the play may not realize that a King is to be murdered for his Crown.
Where is this MACBETH set? The bare platform, with its quartet of pillars, nicely evokes Scotland of old, but the men are dressed as modern-day GI Joes (which makes their bowing or kneeling to successive kings rather odd); Lady Macbeth, with her talk of castles and battlements, wears outfits better suited for cocktails or Hillary Clinton. Any gimmicks? Yes: the roles of the witches are padded by giving them the lines of minor characters, making them more active agents of Fate/Evil/Whatever – a gimmick which could work, provided the Weird Ones are allowed to assume the voice and character of whoever's lines they've usurped. But they have been directed to speak and act catatonic throughout – though I sense that Jean Liuzzi (Witch #3) would be a hoot should the director ever turn her loose.
There are a few gleams here and there: Edwin Beschler brings a gentle dignity to his all-too-brief Duncan; and Andy Riel is amusing enough as the Porter (though he's more spastic than drunken). But the Macbeth is a lumpish, Nero-like Thane who makes up in noise what he lacks in music and his Lady is pure Princess, even after she becomes Queen – witness her sudden entrance in white silk pajamas, and I rest my case.
Singers need to be trained to do opera. Dancers need to be trained to do ballet. And actors need to be trained to do Shakespeare (and working directors don't have the time to teach them). As in opera, the emphasis is on the voice. As in ballet, the emphasis is on moving to an unheard score or being eloquent when remaining still. Performing Shakespeare IS like rocket science – complex and demanding – but how lovely and simple it looks when it truly takes off.