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BWW Reviews: Annapolis Shakespeare Company's MACBETH Slays 'Em at Studio 111

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If you like MACBETH, there's every reason you'd enjoy Annapolis Shakespeare Company's current production of MACBETH. If you don't like MACBETH but are obligated to accompany someone who does, you won't find much to pick on other than that it's MACBETH. I personally have always felt that the interesting bits of The Scottish Play happen early in the show, and the rest is hand-wringing and an inexorable descent into depravity and madness, and I'd like a word or two with the playwright about that. This is as much as I will say about the script, in the rare circumstance that you might not already know the plot.

The Annapolis Shakespeare Company, formerly appearing at the Bowie Playhouse, seems fond of 'alternative' venues. This removes it from the "stuffy theatah" classification into "arty but accessible". Past venues include Reynolds' Tavern's flagstone patio, featuring "Comedy In The Courtyard" and St John's College. Its new home base also qualifies as 'alternative'.

The Studio 111 Theater, located in an industrial office building at the corner of Chinquapin Round Road and Virginia Street, has parking sufficient for a full-house crowd. It's a short trip to the door, which is at street level, and there are no stairs whatsoever. It is most particularly accessible. All the seating- which is PTA folding chairs; be forewarned about that-- is on the same level, on three sides of the "stage", represented by a marley floor. The windows you'd expect in an industrial office building have been thoroughly covered, and the elements combine to create a smallish but functional black box theater.

A surprisingly comprehensive lighting grid is suspended by some dark magic or feat of engineering above the playing area, sufficient to create mood, location, time of day, and a separation between the scene in progress and an individual character who has an aside- a moment in which he or she directly addresses the audience. The tech booth is a wee podium with enough space for a desk lamp and a laptop, which runs the pre-programmed sound and lighting cues efficiently, smoothly, elegantly. Kudos to Gregory Thomas Woolfort Martin, composer and sound designer and Preston Strawn, the lighting designer responsible for this convenience of technology.

Naturally, a programmed and operator-free tech schematic that flows from cue to cue demands that the cast be consistently accurate with entrances, exits, marks, blocking and dialogue. There is no room for mistakes, as there's no person to adjust for late entrances, dropped lines, or incorrect placement.

This cast, however, is equal to that task- well-rehearsed without seeming mechanical, with such clear diction and projection courtesy of resident vocal coach Nancy Krebbs that there's no excuse for any murmurs of "what did she say?" In a setting this intimate, the device of direct address to the audience can be used effectively, and it is. With this little space between the actors and the audience, scenes that traditionally have fourth walls successfully captivate the audience into personal involvement, uncomfortably so in steamy exchanges between Mr. and Mrs. MacBeth. The naturalistic, believable performances of most of the cast throw into sharp relief the excessive and superfluously bizarre interpretation of the witches as phantasmagoric ghouls. The three actors doing so- Renata Plecha, Vanessa Bradchulis and Stephanie La Vardera- proceed with commitment and conviction as they sweep in and out of scenes, suggesting deep vampire fog without the use of an actual fog machine. There are some particularly strong performances, which are to be expected from the union-accredited actors featured in the cast, but the Company holds its own quite capably, too. I specifically enjoyed Kim Curtis as Duncan and Stephanie La Vardera as poor little Fleance, struggling under the weight of his father's sword in his only (but pivotal) scene.

Director Sally Boyett's staging, while not self-consciously blaring "we're performing theatre in the round", engages each corner of the performance area and uses diagonals effectively so that no segment of the audience is consistently presented with actor backsides. Boyett's choice to present MACBETH with no set (apart from a few chairs, specifically required by the script) and a minimum of props keeps the show moving at a snappier pace than would otherwise be possible.

The costuming is simultaneously familiar and imaginative: trench coats and military jackets are embellished with suggestively medieval components. Chainmail-esque shin guards, epaulettes and other trappings dress up ordinary off-the rack pieces which nonetheless manage to hint at bygone days, though closer to the 1940s than Shakespeare's 1600s. Costume designer Maggie Cason's creations are better imagined than executed, but the detail of Duncan's coat needing a good pressing didn't entirely ruin my evening.

The show runs about an hour before intermission and about forty-five minutes after it, with a scant 15 minutes between wherein one may purchase packaged chips or candy, but not wine.

MACBETH, Studio 111's inaugural show, may certainly be counted as a successful opening. Appearing next in Studio 111 is SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, March 27 through April 26, 2015

Macbeth is presented at ASC's Studio 111 (111 Chinquapin Round Road, Annapolis, MD 21401) from Friday, October 24th thru Sunday, November 23rd. Evening performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm. Matinees are Sunday at 3:00pm. Tickets are $30-$35 with discounts for students and seniors. For tickets and information call the ASC Box Office at (410) 415-3513 or online at AnnapolisShakespeare.org.

Photo by Joshua McKerrow



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