BWW Reviews: Eklektix Theatre's MACBETH Shows Strong Potential But Falls a Bit Short
More often than not, theatres produce Shakespeare with a unique, modernizing spin. Keeping in this vein, Eklektix Theatre's Artistic Director Bryan-Keyth Wilson has adapted William Shakespeare's tragedy MACBETH, setting it in a post apocalyptic urban wasteland in the year 3013. Likewise, Bryan-Keyth Wilson, in adapting the play, has made some cuts to the script, which ensure that William Shakespeare's script about betrayal, murder, vanity, paranoia, and madness moves at a break-neck pace.
Direction by Bryan-Keyth Williams expertly captures the violence inherent in the show. For example, upon killing King Duncan, Macbeth enters carrying two blood soaked daggers. In a similar fashion, Banquo's ghost is splashed with blood and has a nice prosthetic gash placed on his neck during the banquet opening of the second act. The audience quickly understands and is reminded that the play is occurring in brutal and savage times. Where I find fault with the direction is that some of the brooding and more introspective elements of the show did not read as well as I would have liked. Often, I found that characterization was rushed, leaving me with a good recitation of perfectly memorized lines without the playing and emotional aspects of such stylized and weighty theatre. The decision to bring a Shakespearean piece to life on stage is ambitious regardless of who is doing it. Even though it is written in English, performing Shakespearean dialogue is like performing in a foreign language. One must first learn the language, then one has to play with, experiment, and find personal resonance and meanings in the language before they can accurately convey each line to the audience. Regarding this, I feel that more rehearsal time could have vastly benefited this production. To me, it seemed that the actors simply needed more time to really delve into the meaning of what they were saying, explore that together, play with that on stage, and then bring in an audience.
Kyle Crawford stars in the demanding titular role. He verbalizes the Shakespearean dialogue with a pragmatic urgency that brings subtle life into the character. Whether it is his young age or a lack of rehearsal time, his overall performance was not dynamic enough for my tastes. When dealing with the three weird sisters, I wanted him to be more exuberantly arrogant and demanding. On the other hand, he does bring a tangible air to Macbeth's paranoia. Macbeth is not an easy role for any actor to perform, but Kyle Crawford shows a lot of effort and charisma in his portrayal. There is no doubting that he knows his lines, but his performance left me wondering what he, as the artist playing the role, felt the lines meant to his character in that particular moment.
Playing Lady Macbeth, Ornella Ashcraft approaches the role in a way that I have never seen before. For me, her portrayal was similar to Deborah Cox's interpretation of Lucy in JEKYLL & HYDE. Sexuality radiated from her good looks and sexualized dress, but like Kyle Crawford I was not always convinced that Ornella Ashcraft understood why her character was saying or doing what she was in every moment of the production. Each line was delivered without missing a beat, but at times the lines came across more as pure recital than as emotionally weighted dialogue.
Tasha Lockett, Lindsey M. Page, and Libby Hart played the three weird sisters among other characters. These women fully committed to making their witch stand apart from the others, creating a confusing lack of uniformity in their coven. For example, Libby Hart's witch hums, Lidsey M. Page's witch hisses, and Tasha Lockett's witch laughs. While these choices allowed the audience to be unnerved by the characters, it didn't seem to have a reason to exist beyond that. Moreover, Libby Hart's witch utilizes organic materials, such as feathers, into her portrayal. Confusingly though, she is the only character in the whole play to use or have anything organic. This made her stand out and stand alone in the production. Another element that was confusing was when the women stepped out of their witch roles and into the roles of servant, soldier, doctor, or murderer they still maintained some of their witchy attributes, such as Libby Hart's humming or Lindsey M. Page's rubbing the top of her hand. These behaviors stood out as awkward, especially considering Macbeth is descending into madness because of his paranoia; therefore, it would seem that these behaviors would be off-putting to him and he may not react favorably to such behaviors. While I commend the creativity and the desire to bring unique characterization to parts that can so often be relegated to clichés, I think some more dialogue needed to happen behind the sense regarding these choices and ironing them out so that they were consistently purposeful and meaningful.
As Ross, or Rosse in this production, I was consistently impressed by Renee Van Nifterek's choices and portrayal. The character was steadfastly loyal and strong. Her line delivery constantly showed an understanding of the words being uttered and the motivation behind them. Presented with this strong performance, I found myself wondering if maybe she would have been better cast as Lady Macbeth opposite an older Macbeth.
Larry Felming gave another strong performance in the production. Duncan is a thankless role that is given little time to develop before being murdered, but he conveyed a regal and stately air that was much appreciated. Then he returned to the stage with a different make-up and costume to play the porter. As the porter, Larry Fleming showed a knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare's utilization of comedic relief in the show. His first entrance as the porter elicited healthy and hearty laughs from everyone in the audience. Likewise, he was a steadfast joy with each subsequent appearance on stage.
John Forgy's Banquo was played well. His loyalty and friendship to Macbeth was apparent at the top of the show. As the plot moved quickly through the beginning of the piece, his motivations to leave Macbeth and Scotland behind were not made perfectly clear to the audience. However, his turn as Banquo's ghost was immaculately creepy and fantastically played, being my favorite part of the whole performance.
Bobby Hewitt's Malcolm, Tomas Torres's Macduff, and Louisa Riofrio's Donalbain/Lady Macduff showcased each actor's ability to memorize the script; however, as I mentioned with other character portrayals, the emotions that I expected where not always present, making their performances come across more as a reading of Shakespearean dialogue than a performance of a play.
Greg Hart's set design for the piece is interesting. The spray-painted walls do a good job indicating the grimy, anarchistic living conditions of postapocalyptic 3013. Yet, I would like to have seen more organic materials incorporated into the set. A major plot element of the show involves the movement of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, which indicates that there would be some sort of organic material of some kind existing in the world, even after the apocalypse. Likewise, using something organic in the set design would give more reason for Libby Hart's witch to have feathers in her hair, making that choice seem less odd. Another element that bothered me was the fact that the stairs on the set were never used. As this production only runs for one weekend, I'm not sure if the set was really built to house this show; however, in my point of view, if you have stairs, use them. That would create for interesting entrances and exits not to mention levels.
Kim Hart's costume deign was inventive and captured the vibe of the concept for the production. The cast was clad mostly in black leathers. Perhaps my favorite piece was the crown made of keys that Macbeth wore. It was inventive and striking. The only choices I was not fond of were the witch's masks, the upside down cross on Kyle Crawford's jacket, and Kyle Crawford's pants which seemed like they should have fit him tighter, almost like skinny or ex-girlfriend jeans would, but they simply did not.
Lighting design was moody and atmospheric, but some shifts did not always occur as smoothly as the designer may have liked or intended. Yet, the use of red washes was powerful and evocative.
Sound design was inspired. Pre-show music was raucous Dubstep that put the audience into the right frame of mind for a postapocalyptic rendition of MACBETH. The ringing sirens were industrial and had the right feel, I just wished they would have occurred sooner after the lines were delivered indicating for them to be played.
All in all, this is production of MACBETH is good example of nontraditional ideals being used creatively to reshape a classic story for modern audiences. While there is a lot of potential in the ideas used, it seems that the rehearsal and preparation phase was simply too condensed to allow the ideas to coalesce and materialize into theatrical brilliance. With that said, I look forward to seeing future productions with the capable and obviously talented cast and crew. These artists and Eklektix Theatre itself are on the right track and getting their foot in the door of the Houston Theatre Scene, and I feel like we'll be seeing some great things from them in the near future.
Eklektix Theatre's MACBETH runs through Sunday, January 6, 2013 at The Pearl Theatre at 14803 Park Almeda Drive, Houston, Texas. For more information and tickets, visit www.eklektixtheatre.org or call (970) 281 - 7382.
Photos courtesy of Bryan-Keyth Wilson and Eklektix Theatre.
Kyle Crawford as Macbeth.
Tomas Torres as Macduff, Larry Fleming as the porter, and Renee van Nifterik as Rosse.
Lindsey Page, Tasha Lockett, and Libby Hart as the three witches.
John Forgy as The Ghost of Banquo.