BWW Review: MACBETH at Park Square Theatre
This pared down adaptation of one of Shakespeare's shortest tragedies moves swiftly from an original opening scene to a disappointing final one. As a contemplation of ambition and ruthlessness and the drive to political power, it is ever timely.
Adapted and directed by Jeff Hall-Flavin, the show is compressed into just 90 minutes of stage time. His best idea is to present the witches as religious sisters in a fanatical cult whose potions are both grisly and hallucinogenic. Lady Macbeth (Vanessa Wasche) reads her famous "unsex me here" monologue from their holy book, suggesting that extremist ideas have infiltrated the society at large, at least as titillating and clandestine reading.
Other choices work less well. This show occupies the smaller basement thrust space at Park Square and so the audience is quite close to the action. This makes the intermittent use of spurting stage blood veer too close to comedy, despite good fight work by several players, notably Macbeth (Michael Ooms) and Macduff (Garry Geiken) in a long penultimate sequence choreographed by Doug Scholz-Carlson. Their fine work precedes a disappointingly anti-climactic final scene, lacking in the grit or gravitas it needs. It can't be saved by packing the space with shrouded corpses and the full cast of nine.
Ooms chooses to play Macbeth as more unhinged than many actors do as the play proceeds, and pulls this off. Geiken as Macduff gives a fine, believable, nuanced performance of the notoriously difficult scene when he learns that his wife and children have been slaughtered. One way to read Shakespeare's canon is to focus on the changing way fathers are depicted across it, and this scene is a crucial stop on that journey. Geiken does it justice.
Joseph Stanley's set is simple and effective. Many surfaces are covered with large panels of reflective foil, suggesting fractured mirrors. An angled pair of full height mirrored panels upstage center disguise an angled cubbyhole that can be lit to reveal Banquo's ghost and other visions, as needed. The floor is covered with shards of stone flooring that look as if they have been shattered by some impact, off center. The only set element that stays on stage throughout is a small stone tower, like an overgrown chess castle. It serves the witches as cauldron and the Macbeths as washing station. So the set is suggestive of time and place and ideas and themes without slowing up the action.
The same is true of the costumes, by Sarah Bahr. She carefully controls the dark palette, keeping touches of medieval lines but using simple modern pieces too (sweaters and denim) in an eclectic mix that doesn't insist on being noticed but gives the play a contemporary edge. Armor is limited to leather strapping connected with rings, and pads that look like hockey or football gear, often just on one shoulder. These make theatrical sense, and are a good departure from realism.
The production will be seen by many school groups before it closes on April 9. I'll hope that some of the younger actors will grow in their ability to deliver lines with clarity and feeling, bonded together, as the run continues. I welcome the dark, tight compression of this adaptation: this is a play that works fine when grandeur and magnificence, so often associated with the Bard, are limited to the language.
Photo credit: Petronella J. Ytsma