Theater Review: “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
Ryan Bechard and Zoe V. Speas in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Photo by Eric Dobbs.
The Weird Sisters’ distressing chant, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” and Macbeth’s soliloquy on the futility of life, “Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” are perhaps the more recognizable lines of verse in William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” now on stage by Richmond Shakespeare under the lurid direction of visiting director Jan Powell.
But a more obscure stanza caught my attention more disturbingly than I could have envisaged.
Malcolm, played by David Janosik with princely Scottish finesse, son of the assassinated King Duncan, acted by a handsomely burly Andrew Mitakides who doubles as Macduff, mourns over the decrepit state of his inherited realm, Scotland, usurped by Macbeth, who Ryan Bechard individualizes hypnotically, in a coup d’état, with the following elegy in Act IV, Scene III:
“I think our country sinks beneath the yoke.
It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash
Is added to her wounds.”
Thanks to an unsettled American political environment, exasperating our economic malaise and social divisiveness, I couldn’t help but momentarily contextualize “Macbeth” within the hemorrhaging troubles of our modern decade. But while this tragedy illustrates the corrosive effects of undiluted political ambitions on man’s consciousness and on the state, director Powell doesn’t intend to frame the narrative within contemporary political rhetoric.
On the contrary, she writes she has focused “on the universal attraction of making small moral bargains” in her director’s notes. And tastefully replacing Shakespeare’s visual sensationalism for symbolic phantasmagoria, her swift direction moves the 2 hour production “inward to Macbeth’s heart of darkness,” as Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom writes, with classical grace.
Located in a metaphoric Inferno, lighting and scenic designer BJ Wilkinson’s skeletal, spare set of two wooden planked risers, arranged in a convex configuration, suggests a chalice being filled with the blood of Macbeth’s victims or engulfs the audience in a spatial emptiness, paralleling Macbeth’s mental nothingness as the play slithers on from domestic regicide to civil warfare.
Emphasizing their treacherous, nefarious intentions, costume designer Virginia McConnell carefully colors only Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, a young, but harrowing Zoe V. Speas, in red medieval attire, suggesting they are the toxic blood plunging their country into cardiac arrest. Moreover, notice how she sketches the remaining nimble, intimate cast of five in beige rags with minimal accessories: a wooden, play sword for Macduff’s son, portrayed by the lovable Brittany Diane Simmons, and a blue, frayed robe for Duncan suffice, supporting Bloom’s observation that the secondary characters are “wrapped in a common grayness.”
McConnell’s costume design directs our attention toward the Macbeths, and rarely does a moment ebb or flow against the foggy mist that we are not enveloped in their scheming. And similar to last summer’s magnificent “King Lear,” Bechard brings back a subtle, yet sometimes overly rapacious, sensuality with his wife, sublimating his fledgling murderous desires into sexual passion.
Killing off Banquo, a finely realized Lasean Pierre Greene, and lastly Lady Macduff, portrayed with intense anguish, moistening my eyes when one of Macbeth’s assassins squashes her newborn to death, by the winsome Ingrid Alli, intensifies the state of violence for the audience. You sense that Bechard’s Macbeth and Speas’ Lady Macbeth, slowly glancing back at us with intensely dilated eyes, are paralyzed in their own fear.
Certainly, the war and bloodshed move the narrative along. Kevin Inouye’s exceptional fighting scenes evoke Macedonian athleticism, sometimes ruffling the diction aided by master of verse Molly Hood, and end with a final battle between Macduff and Macbeth that cracks the spine.
Yet, there’s a transient glimmer of humor, too. Weaved into the hellish plot, Shakespeare allows the drunk Porter, sharply played by Janosik with comic verve, to poke fun at virility when guarding Macbeth’s castle.
And so like the Porter, we are reassured that even in our darkest, “Macbeth” moments, there’s more often than not something to laugh about. Well, at least after a few cold ones, anyway.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” runs through Feb. 25, 2012 at Gottwald Playhouse. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.richmondshakespeare.com/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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