BWW Review: 4615 Theatre Company's MACBETH is Mired by Miscalculated Performances
Tackling Macbeth is no minor feat. Few shows inspire as much dread both onstage and off as Shakespeare's "Scottish Play." Daringly dark in both plot and theme, Macbeth relies heavily on the performances of the eponymous Scot and his wife to propel the plot along compellingly and with varying intensity. 4615 Theatre Company's production, unfortunately, falls victim to most of the pitfalls which riddle this complicated work. The final result is a revival which is bogged down by a slow-paced first act and lead performances which are unable to reveal anything new about this work.
Macbeth is the quintessential political drama-and one you likely read in your high school English class. The brave Scottish general Macbeth (Jared H. Graham) is prophesied to become the King of Scotland. Unable to shake this future from his mind, Macbeth's ambition, coupled with Lady Macbeth's (Charlene V. Smith) unwavering encouragement, spurs him to murder King Duncan to take the Scottish throne. As more Scots begin questioning Macbeth's meteoric rise to power, the dangerous web Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have woven becomes more and more tangled while the body count rises. Only once the brave Macduff (Tim German) combats Macbeth at Dunsinane Hill is the tyrannical reign ended.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Such a statement is apt for Macbeth, which weighs heavily on the actor who wears the Scottish crown as the will-be king. There's a necessary trajectory to Macbeth's arc: the noble general must begin skeptical before letting his thirst for power consume his actions and subsequently create guilt that drives the crucial dinner scene at the top of the second act. Mr. Graham is able to embody Macbeth's tyrannical nature effectively by the play's end, but the first two-thirds of the production lack a necessary shift in personality from gallant general to tyrannical king. This missing shift therefore prevents the plot from building at a suitable pace, largely because the plot is so dependent on this noticeable shift in Macbeth's nature.
Simultaneously, Ms. Smith lacks the bloodthirsty nature that makes Lady Macbeth one of Shakespeare's most compelling female characters. From the play's start, Lady Macbeth seems too tentative and not at all eager for her husband to pursue greater things. When she casts off the possibility of children by wishing for a higher power to "unsex me here," there should be a clear thirst for something bigger than her current state. Instead, Lady Macbeth is too empathetic to those around her, constantly emoting and feeling genuinely for those around her. These are good traits for most people (and most actors) but Lady Macbeth is a creature concerned with herself above all else but, unfortunately, this is never made clear during 4615 Theatre Company's production. Ms. Smith does have a solid "out, damn spot" monologue where she skillfully executes a downward spiral into madness. This moment would be more impressive, however, if her Lady Macbeth didn't seem so close to crumbling so much earlier in the production.
Although Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are unable to successfully step into their roles as villains, the heroes of this production, Macduff and Lady Macduff (Alani Kravitz), shine brightly. Ms. Kravitz relishes her short moments as Lady Macduff, creating a compelling performance with a small part that stays with you after the production thanks to a great emotional second act. After his wife's passing Mr. German's Macduff truly shines-fueling his Dunsinane confrontation with a mournful energy that gives an unexpected amount of depth to their combat. It's a surprising, and very welcome, performance indeed.
Directed by 4615's Artistic Director, Jordan Friend, this production of Macbeth feels cramped and stifled. Presented in Silver Spring's Highwood Theatre, the show is done in-the-round. This decision doesn't seem to be supported by the production as the arena configuration doesn't add any additional layers to the production. It's possible this setup was chosen to create a closer connection between the audience and the actors but this goal isn't fulfilled as this show keeps its emotional distance throughout the evening.
The show does a strong job of pulling off this epic Shakespearean drama in all technical areas. Benjamin Weigel provides solid costuming that effectively establishes time, place and status for all characters. Brian Gillick does a good job creating a vivid scene with very few set pieces during the production. Mr. Friend's music composition is effective and helps add an additional layer to this Macbeth.
Though there's a valiant effort present in this production, the complicated nature of Shakespeare's work strains the fledgling 4615 Theatre Company. When the dust has settled at the play's conclusion, the thrill of Macduff's victory will likely be less satisfying than it was intended. Instead, the production's missteps prevent it from reaching new dramatic heights.
4615 Theatre Company's production of Macbeth is playing in repertory with Moira Buffini's Dinner through August 19 at the Highwood Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets and information, click here.
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
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