nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
April 1, 2011
This is Macbeth as rendered by a group of Eastern European Gypsies: Makbet is more ritual than story. With the combination of ceremony, improvisation, and Shakespeare, Dzieci has created a fascinating, risky, and original work.
In the small cafe where this performance took place, there is a small circle of chairs. Inside the circle are a red rug and a collection of props, as well as audience and actors mingling together. Improvised pre-show interaction with the characters includes passing around some wine and receiving personalized fortune-telling. While the other performers mill with the audience, Jesse Hathaway has already begun a complex ritual: shifting candles, dripping wax, spilling water and rubbing it into the carpet, and spitting into various corners of the room. The ritual feels precise and executed as though it were the hundredth time.
The actors openly discuss whether they ought to begin, who should go turn off the lights, and ask an audience member to read a set of rules about the performance from the program. All the actors have learned the entire text. Three are chosen at the start to perform all the play's parts. They switch roles throughout the performance by handing off objects to signify their character. The other actors become involved in a handful of scenes, but mainly create the production's wailing choral soundscape, including Eastern European folk songs. In fight scenes, the chorus is incorporated innovatively to emphasis moments of violent contact. Throughout the performance, Hathaway conducts these background vocals with a spot-on sense of atmosphere and engagement. Without any spoken words, he is his own dynamic presence.
The three actors come together as the weird sisters and with a witchy summoning they are off. They sustain the "Gypsy-actor" accents while shifting their voices between characters. The chorus members and actors coordinate the use of flashlights and candles to light the entire show. To accommodate the small circular performance space, there is a dynamic upward and downward flow of action, tending towards lower in space than a more typical performance.
A number of moments stick out in my mind. Matt Mitler delivered Macbeth's Act 5, Scene 5 "Tomorrow and tomorrow…" soliloquy in a solid rhythm, kneeling, pleading to the earth. I've heard this speech many times, but this time I heard it anew. Rebecca Sokoll erratically waves a lantern while oddly contorting her body, and later hangs hauntingly (and precariously) over Macbeth by a red shawl. She switches from this unpredictable, possessed ghost to Macbeth cowering in his wife's arms at the feast, scared of the ghost she has just created, unwaveringly. Megan Bones's squinting, limping Duncan seemed to take up half the room with his gray overcoat. Later, Bones tears through the austerity of the space when she enters smiling as Macduff, providing a much needed release.
When the company filled a barrel with candles, it was beautiful. Their hands, outstretched over the light, flew magnetically together into a clump. For one scene the pink sunglasses of Malcolm were placed on my head, so the necessary fourth character could be present. When Mitler removed the glasses, I had the privilege of a cinematic close-up as he finished his speech and turned his face away from his flashlight into dark. The ritual when Banquo is killed—touching candles to his head, shoulders, and chest, then passing the candles to audience members—resonated with me and I could not say why.
The tempo of the text is consistently slow, with rarely more than a couple words spoken without pausing between them. This creates an overall textual rhythm that often detracts from the meaning of phrases. But since this production focuses on creating the dynamics of a ritual rather than effectively communicating a plot, it is possible that this approach to the text is employed to intentionally prioritize maintaining rhythm over the meaning of language.
After a couple possible endings, for the curtain call the actors bring the audience to their feet for a final dance.
Dzieci is reaching for something. Their love and striving are felt in the air. The group is there for each other, supporting the chaotic structure and making it possible. Makbet is quite a daring feat.