nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 6, 2010
[Editor's Note: A good synopsis of Macbeth is available on SparkNotes.]
Whenever anyone begins to work on translating Shakespeare's tale of insatiable ambition to the stage, he or she is faced with the somewhat daunting puzzle of what to do with the spooky bits: those "weird sisters" who begin the play and are the catalysts for the action; and their boss Hecate, who appears midway through the play and in a brobdingnagian tantrum compels the sisters to impel Macbeth's doom. In the Redd Tale Theater Company's current production, artistic director Will Le Vasseur takes on this challenge admirably, embracing the witches head-on and effectively solving the problem through movement and lighting. In this production, the three witches are ever-present, watching the action, portraying various smaller roles, and of course, conjuring as necessary. Jodi Mara, Merrie Jane Brackin, and Melissa Smith give commendable, creditable performances in these roles. By no means crones, these attractive women remain eerily focused on their proceedings, almost as if the whole play were a product of three women who got bored with the Ouija Board and thought to try something more adventurous. Not to say that Le Vasseur's approach is like TV's Charmed, however. No, this production is an earnest portrayal of unbridled ambition run amuck, using limited resources to good effect.
Le Vasseur, who also designed the set and costumes, uses the small Spoon Theater well, taking advantage of the three archways that evoke "castle" and the boundaries of the space as well—the very walls come into play. His own staging is augmented by some very fine movement choreography by Rebecca Smith-Millstein, resulting in a palette of movement for the witches that is appropriately evocative and, yes, spooky. The lighting design is uncredited, but one assumes it is Le Vasseur's handiwork. Using a limited number of instruments he very clearly denotes when things get supernatural, aided by blacklights and some clever floor painting.
The costumes suit the production well with a contemporary Scots feel. All the male characters wear kilts with neutral tank tops and their various baldrics bear tartan plaids to signify the character's clan affiliation. The witches however wear neutral Grecian garments keeping them otherworldly and evoking the Three Muses, a nice added resonance.
The entire cast gives clear, understandable renditions of the text in good, honest performances. Standouts include: Maria Silverman, who does quadruple duty as Siward, Lady Macduff, Hecate, and Duncan; Collin McConnell, who gives a fine Banquo; and Morgan Auld, who plays Ross truthfully and Porter with an interesting edge not often seen.
As the title character, James Stewart also gives us an intelligent, thoughtful performance, though perhaps too cerebral for my taste. His Macbeth certainly hits all his marks on the journey from valiant warrior to twisted despot—I just wish he could mine deeper the depths of his feelings. This could be a product of the intimacy of the space, but I still think he could go further. Similarly, the Lady Macbeth of Virginia Bartholomew is pleasing to watch. She, too, gives an honest approach that at times is simply spellbinding—appropriate to a play bound by spells! Sparks do fly between this couple and the roots of passion are clearly there, but as yet those sparks are embryonic. One hopes with the playing those passions will soar.
As to the music, Robert Roxby needs special mention for his original score of evocative sound, aptly setting and augmenting moods. As to the fights, fight choreographer Mike Yahn, with the assistance of Alec Barbour, stretches the limits of the playing space almost to the fear of the audience, especially those of us sitting in the front row. The weapons themselves were a little too sharp and pointy for my taste—they needn't look so dangerous that we actually fear for the safety of the actors.
All told, this production of Macbeth is a fast-paced, clear rendition, aided by the judicious trimming by Le Vasseur which brings the show in at just over two hours. The particular Redd Tale Theater Company spin Le Vasseur discusses in the program's Director's Notes, "a healthy dose of the supernatural/creepy/weird," comes across quite nicely. No small achievement that makes this Scotsman worth seeing.