"Macbeth" by William Shakespeare at Folding Chair Theatre, March 21, 2019 - April 14, 2019
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You enter into the pre-show with the five male members of the cast onstage. Blood-red lighting saturates the screen forming the upstage wall. Stools and tables and various percussion instruments surround the playing area. An infant-sized coffin sits downstage center. Two men are at either side of the stage, playing percussion instruments that blend into the ominous sound design. The other three men, wearing burgundy red hooded cloaks, crouch and move with deformed gaits, occasionally letting out with "when" and "where." This blends into the show’s opening (and closing) of "When shall we three meet again?"
Mary Saville’s costumes feature burgundy for jackets and cloaks and black for shirts and dresses. The men wear camouflage fatigue pants and combat boots. This gives a nice cohesive feel to the design. As actors move from role to role, slight modifications indicate the change -- a crown for King Duncan, an eye patch for Banquo, glasses and a white jacket for the doctor. Vocal changes accompany many of the varied role assignments, but not so stark in nature as to become jarring.
Marcus Geduld has directed the show to move smoothly through its 1 hour 50 minute uninterrupted runtime. Many moments are highly stylized, as when an actor about to be killed moves downstage and reacts, face to audience, as knife strokes stab at the position he recently was on stage. There’s no blood, but it’s highly effective. Forays into the audience area make fine use of the center aisle in the Windmill Arts Center space.
While "Macbeth" is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, cutting of the script has occurred. This is usually pretty seamless, with the glaring exception being the murder of Lady Macduff and her children, which is symbolized by having the female cast member (Lisa Blankenship) carry the coffin upstage and mourn over it. Since she has previously mourned at the coffin downstage as Lady Macbeth, indicating that she has "given suck," we have been led to believe the coffin contains the body of a dead Macbeth scion. This scene is followed by a longish one between Malcolm (Ryan LaMotte) and Macduff (Stuart McDaniel) that stymies the headlong pace of the script. Once the final battle scene arrives, however, things move quickly to a conclusion.
Performances are all good or better. Andre Eaton Jr. doesn’t have a lot to do, but provides a threatening presence in many of his scenes. Stuart McDaniel has fabulous diction in all his roles, contrasting with Alan Phelps, whose generally modern American speech patterns don’t mesh well with Shakespeare’s verse. Mr. Phelps’ physicality, though, is unrivaled. Ryan LaMotte adds some tiny bits of humor as the Doctor, and Robert Bryan Davis has all the manly power Macbeth should have. Lisa Blankenship, whose perky blonde beauty doesn’t immediately suggest "Lady Macbeth," nevertheless triumphs in the role, using facial expressions, physicality, and vocal power to become the cold-blooded usurper the role demands.
"Macbeth" is done frequently at the Shakespeare Tavern with a more literal Elizabethan flavor and a more extensive cast. Doing a stripped-down version like this from Folding Chair Classical Theatre allows the power of the piece to come through more directly. It’s viscerally exciting. When technical elements, direction, and acting all occur at a consistently high level of quality, it creates theatre that demands to be seen.