nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
March 10, 2011
The reason that William Shakespeare’s plays are timeless is because they deal with the most basic aspects of humanity. Whether it be a romance, comedy, or tragedy, Shakespeare really had our number, telling stories about what it is to have great depth even in our most tragic flaws. There is no expiration date. It is for this reason that I continue to attend productions of his works. I have found quite often that the very best interpretations of these famous plays come from indie theater companies. When a group of artists has a low budget and can’t consistently create spectacle for their audience it can result in a beautiful, stripped-down examination of what Shakespeare was really trying to tell us about ourselves. I was very much hoping that Red Shark’s production of Macbeth would be one of these raw and human productions. Unfortunately, they mostly skim over the top.
Macbeth’s tragedy has been told thousands of different ways. A man gets an inkling from whatever source (psychic, horoscope, witch…) that if he plays his cards right success and power are right around the corner for him if only he is patient. The little ambitious voice within pushes him to take matters into his own hands and force fate, ultimately destroying him. It is these elements of greed, ambition, pride, and need to control that make the story of Macbeth great. If you take away his accountability what do you have left?
Director Kelly Johnston makes very clear what his angle in telling this tale is. The characters in this story are not people with flaws. They are victims of fate. He has made this story about the Witches—three “weird sisters” who prophesy Macbeth’s future, setting into motion the chain of events that follow. These very sexy, fluid, and malicious witches, played with grace by Haley Heisick, Annie Rubino, and Samantha Dena, take it several steps further. They treat the characters as toys, speaking through them and even physically moving them into carrying out horrifying deeds for what seems to be their own amusement, laughing madly when people are killed. It is a bold choice on Johnston’s part, but one that I believe works against what makes the play great.
That seems to be the theme of the production overall; lots of good ideas that were not quite executed in a way that serves the piece. The 1940s setting seems like a side note but it is fun to see how costume designer Kerry Gibbons dresses the characters. The witches leave little clues that they were among the “mortals” like drawing symbols on Lady Macbeth’s mirror in her lipstick and collecting trophies from the wreckage they cause. I would prefer the details be applied to the characters but I did appreciate the effort in that area.
The ensemble is extremely dedicated and talented overall. There are most certainly some standout performances. For me, the show belongs to Macduff, played with heart, strength, and humanity by Andy English. English’s performance is the most moving but sadly it is only a supporting role. When he hears of his wife and children’s murder, Malcolm (Michael Raver) tells him “Dispute it like a man” to which he replies with great breadth, pain, and honesty, “I shall do so; But I must also feel it as a man…” It is a great moment in the evening. Other standout performances come from Matt Barbot as the Porter, who understands his role as comic relief and absolutely delivers with impeccable timing. (My theatergoing companion could all but contain herself whenever he showed up on stage, she enjoyed him so much.) Sheila Joon, as Lady Macbeth’s Maid/Lady Macduff, undergoes the most convincing and drastic transformation among the actors playing multiple roles, ensuring that there is no way we would be confused by the switch.
Tony van Halle in the title role is clearly very skilled. He leaves no doubt that he understands the language and intends to do the role justice. He absolutely nails his “to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow…” speech in Act 5, Scene 5, but throughout the play he frequently turns the man into a caricature of himself, mugging and gaping open-mouthed at the audience. Christine Seisler in the role of his manipulative wife never quite…is. Manipulative that is. She comes across as weak, whiny, and easily influenced instead of sharp, passionate, and opportunistic. Even when the guilt of what she and her husband have done drives her mad, Seisler seems to play “crazy” rather than believe wholeheartedly all the ravings she is spewing. I suspect much of this stems from the overall theme of this production.
Although the concept left me wanting I was very impressed with the set and lighting design by Starlet Jacobs and Crystal M. Lee respectively. They owned the space with their presence. There’s also a pretty sweet sword fight at the end. Truly this show has lots of potential and hopefully by the end of their run more humanity will be tapped into. This is most definitely a group hard at work and I look forward to seeing Red Shark’s future productions.