BWW Reviews: Main Street Theater & Prague Shakespeare Company's MACBETH is Wickedly Thrilling
Following last year's well-received and highly praised production of HENRY V, Main Street Theater and Prague Shakespeare Company have teamed up again to produce William Shakespeare's MACBETH. This particular production of the beloved play premiered on November 7, 2013 at Divadlo Kolowrat in Prague, Czech Republic. For this version of MACBETH, the play is condensed to an 80-minute one act and the plot moves with breakneck speeds through the familiar tale of witches, ambition, murder, and destruction.
Guy Roberts, Artistic Director of Prague Shakespeare Company, certainly knows his Shakespeare. In trimming down MACBETH, he retains the essential elements of the story; however, he cuts characters and full scenes without hesitation. For those, like myself, who enjoy unabridged approaches to William Shakespeare's plays, this is most disconcerting. Yet, even I have to admit that once the 80 minute production ended, I only missed the excised bits because of my familiarity with the play, not because they were necessary to understand this dark tale.
Directing MACBETH, Guy Roberts makes some fascinating choices that amp up the eerie qualities of the story and keep the audience attending to action unfolding. Two concentric circles are painted in white on the black floor of the stage, outlining the playing space for line deliveries. Outside these circles are the visible wings of the production, where a chorus of nine weird sisters waits to interact with the leading cast. Interestingly enough, it seems that Guy Roberts' witches have summoned forth specters of the characters to relive this tragedy, as the chorus hauntingly joins in on the deliveries of key words and phrases during soliloquies like children quoting lines from their favorite films. They whisper and hiss these lines in the darkness, watching what unfolds within the circles with the same rapt attention as the audience.
As Macbeth, Guy Roberts begins the show as a youthful thane who gets his first tastes of ambition when the witches curiously proclaim him as "Thane of Glamis," his current title at the show's opening, "Thane of Cawdor," and say that he shall "be King hereafter." He is named Thane of Cawdor immediately following the disappearance of the withes from the play's action, and his own ambition begins to slowly erode the man. It is in the erosion of the character that Guy Roberts showcases his brilliance as an actor. He has sincere trepidations about murdering King Duncan, but does so because he is wooed by the prophecy spun by the witches. After he kills Duncan, he begins his restless life as King of Scotland, shedding more and more blood to keep his grip firmly on the Scottish crown. As an audience, we see how the growing number of murders wears him down and how his pride makes him blind to his own downfall.
Jessica Boone plays Lady Macbeth with skillful power. She delivers the key monologues in a way that fits with this production and still gives audiences everything they have come to expect from each significant moment. Jessica Boone ensures that her Lady Macbeth is full of ambition as well, pushing Macbeth to follow through with the plans they have made to murder King Duncan and become Scotland's ruling family. Like her husband, she is deeply troubled and haunted by the murder of the king, which brings on her own madness. In Jessica Boone's capable hands, the audience is gifted with a Lady Macbeth who shatters and folds under pressure. With Guy Roberts' staging of Jessica Boone's exit from the stage and her riveting performance leading up to that moment, the audience truly feels the tragic weight of Lady Macbeth's demise.
In this streamlined production, the other named characters retained are significantly reduced and serve to move the story forward. Even with the trimming, Jared Doreck as Malcolm, Peter Hosking as Duncan, Charles Frederick Secrease as Macduff, and Jeff Smith as Banquo all deliver performances worthy of mention. Each creates a purposeful and memorable character. Standout moments from this group are Jeff Smith as the ghost of Banquo at the dinner party and Charles Frederick Secrease's gut wrenching agony when he learns that Macbeth has had his wife and son killed.
Similarly, Lily Chu, Vanessa Gendron, Philip Hays, Julie Josephson, Ashe Kazanjian, Celeste Roberts, Eric Sammons, David Wald, and Bree Welch perfectly unnerve and mesmerize the audience as the witches. Whether interacting with the characters from within the concentric circles or watching, whispering, and hissing from outside the circles, this group creates an aura that is unsettling and completely entrancing all at the same time.
Eleni Podara's Scenic Design is a bare bones approach, utilizing clear Plexiglas boxes to hold swords and serve as throne,s and the two white circles on the floor demark the playing space. Likewise, for Costume Design, Eleni Podara uses black material with accents, like cowls on the witches and armor on Macbeth to give indications of who the characters are. Conversely, Duncan is dressed in red-stained whites while Macduff and Malcom are dressed in other muted colors, making them stand apart from Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, and the witches.
Lighting Design by Johanna-Mai Vihalem cleverly uses pinpoint spots to create unique and interesting focal points in the intimate venue. Amid blue and green washes and fog, her lighting design skillfully gives the impression that the audience is watching some conjured vision.
Streamlined to its bare essentials and stylized to feverously hold the attention of the audience, Main Street Theater and Prague Shakespeare Company have produced a version of MACBETH that is wickedly thrilling. Last night's sold-out house had high hopes and expectations for the production after last year's magnificent HENRY V, and no one walked away disappointed.
MACBETH, co-produced by Main Street Theater and Prague Shakespeare Company, runs at Main Street Theater - Rice Village, 2540 Times Boulevard, Houston, 77005 now through March 9, 2014. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with additional performances Saturday, March 1 at 5:00 p.m., Sunday, March 2 at 3:00 p.m., Monday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 5 at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 6 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 9 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://mainstreettheater.com or call (713) 524-6706.
Photos by Brian Messman. Courtesy of Main Street Theater.
Guy Roberts as Macbeth.
Guy Roberts as Macbeth.
Guy Roberts as Macbeth.
Guy Roberts as Macbeth and Jessica Boone as Lady Macbeth.
Prague Shakespeare Company members as the witches.