BWW Review: Minimalist MACBETH Lays Bare the Inner Workings of the Power-Hungry Mind, at Portland Center Stage
Twenty-plus years ago, I saw a production of The Merchant of Venice that consisted entirely of four actors and four folding chairs. Like all students, I had studied Shakespeare in school, and I'd seen a few of his plays staged, but until that moment, I never got it in any real sense. This uber-minimalist production changed everything -- I finally understood why, 400 years later, we still turn to Shakespeare when we want to better understand human nature.
Right now, there is perhaps no aspect of human nature that we need to understand more than the blind ambition for power that drives MACBETH, which is now running at Portland Center Stage. Like the Merchant I saw many years ago, this version, with a script edited and abbreviated by Lee Sunday Evans, uses the minimum possible number of actors -- three, all of whom are women -- to play all of the roles. This stripped-down production, directed by Adriana Baer, warns us against the worst parts of ourselves. It's superb.
Gender-swapping and single-sex productions are currently quite popular. Perhaps because I'm so used to it, I often don't find that the actor's gender fundamentally changes my perception of the play. That was not the case here. MACBETH is a tale of a man whose hunger for absolute power leads him to commit terrible atrocities, including murdering his best friend. Perhaps because we've gotten so used to watching men commit violent acts, watching women do them makes makes us focus on how terrible they actually are. These aren't the actions of a powerful leader; they're the actions of a madman.
This feeling is amplified by Dana Green's magnificent performance as Macbeth (and a host of other characters). She moves fluidly from calmness to rage, to paranoia, to possible remorse, and back again, disturbingly illuminating Macbeth's psychological deterioration. Chantal DeGroat's character list includes Lady Macbeth, who she plays as a generally nervous wreck who's able to pull herself together once she decides what needs to be done, as well as Lady Macduff, whose palpable grief bounces off the walls of the Ellen Bye Studio. Meanwhile, Lauren Bloom Hanover does justice as too many characters to count, including Banquo and Macduff, Macbeth's chief rivals.
Overall, this is a very haunting Macbeth, made even more haunting by Stephen Dobay's sparse gray set, Carl Faber's dim lighting, and Heather Christian's original score of a cappella music. I recommend it very highly. If you haven't seen MACBETH in a while, or this is your first go at it, take some time to brush up on the play so you can keep track of the characters.
MACBETH runs at Portland Center Stage through November 24. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Kate Szrom/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory