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BWW Reviews: MACBETH Scarily Effective For Kentucky Shakespeare

In the last 10 years, I have seen at least three different productions of Shakespeare's "Scottish Play." All of them attempted to underline some sinister element of the play - bleakness, metaphysics, existential drudgery - through a combination of heightened stylistic choices, be they costuming, playing space, creative casting, or multimedia elements.

Despite the pronounced artistic intentions the play inspires, until last weekend I could not tell you the plot of "Macbeth." It has just never stuck with me on the way out of any production.

This is not to say Shakespeare-With-An-Idea is wholly inappropriate, but the production presented by Kentucky Shakespeare as the culmination of its summer in Central Park MainStage series finds a straightforward truth of the story in its period-approach simplicity. The play is rife with metaphysical menace and oppression. Simply and effectively stage the horrific saga of two regular people facing the grand-scale consequences of their actions and, to paraphrase director Matt Wallace's program note, you will find something more frightening than any witch.

Wallace and this company's "Macbeth" is the most breathless and unsettling live theatrical production I have ever encountered, and I am grateful for it. The elucidation of character and stakes that makes Wallace's productions exceptional theatrical experiences - never mere recitations of pretty, quaint language - couples with the profound horror found in the best haunted houses, set at a pace that never lets up from the first charge through the woods - making adept use of Central Park - until the final strike of the sword brings light back to the embattled kingdom.

That elucidation includes the decision to cast the leading Thane and Lady of Glamis, Cawdor and king hereafter with some fatal blind spots. John Patrick O'Brien and Abigail Maupin's ambitious couple are not played as hideous irredeemable monsters but brash opportunists for whom thinking before they act would mean death - the precise reward they receive for their haste. Their performances are never overarchingly grand or dominating, and the entirety of the intrigue is stronger for it.

The supporting players do their part to buttress that intrigue with gusto. Jeremy Sapp finds the great emotional and physical extremes of Macduff, and Darnell Benjamin provides a brother-in-arms for Macbeth that makes his betrayal and murder aptly tragic. And of course, the three witches (Neill Robertson, Megan Massie, and Maggie Lou Rader) supply the supernatural awesomeness that had children edging away from the isles. Their cauldron scene - staged with liberal special effects, fantastic for their spareness contrasted with the rest of the play - drew eager applause for the intensity of their performance, the climax of an immersive performance into the creepy, arthritic prophets. The bombastic horror of these scenes is suitably paired with the chilling staging of the attack on Macduff's family.

Donna Lawrence-Downs' costumes do much of the work in immediately creating the muddy, grubby nation. Laura Ellis's sound design and Casey Clark's lighting create the eerie atmosphere impressed upon Scotland, and Eric Frantz's fight choreographer injects the thrilling, hard-hitting reality of a nation at war with itself.

This season of Shakespeare in the Park has been notable for breadth of feelings found across the plays. From the contemplative and benign magic of "The Tempest" through the pomp and silliness of "The Taming of the Shrew," the company completes a trifecta with a staging worthy of an October opening. Seeing all three in rotating repertory and the day-long Bard-A-Thon on July 25 will be a feast for the senses and sensibilities. It's been a great summer to be a fan of Shakespeare in Louisville.

"Macbeth" returns to the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater July 14, 17, 22, and 26 as part of Kentucky Shakespeare's rotating repertory run of all three MainStage productions, which will be presented consecutively on July 25 as part of the "Bard-A-Thon." For more information, go to kyshakespeare.com.


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From This Author Todd Zeigler

Todd Zeigler has been writing, directing and performing around the Louisville, Kentucky area since 2006. Proud contributor to BroadwayWorld since September 2013. (read more...)