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Macbeth

a Tragedy
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 4128

SHOWING : October 08, 2011 - October 30, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Witches … prophecy … greed … desire for power … a wife’s yearnings … which is it that seals the tragic fate of Macbeth and his country? Journey to Scotland for this haunting tale. Macbeth is sure to thrill and to chill.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Laura Cole
Assistant Director Amee Vyas
Lighting Designer Matt Felten
Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Angus/Scottish Doctor/Murderer Oge Agulue
Lennox/Bleeding Captain Nicholas Faircloth
Donalbain/Young Siward/Murderer Stephen Hanthorn
Weird Sister/Gentlewoman Dani Herd
Malcolm Jonathan Horne
Macbeth Andrew Houchins
Duncan/Siward/Old Man Doug Kaye
Weird Sister/Fleance/Macduff's child Kathryn Lawson
Lady Macduff/Weird Sister Kati Grace Morton
Banquo/Caithness Matt Nitchie
Porter/Murderer/Seyton Daniel Parvis
Ross Tiffany Porter
Lady Macbeth Mary Russell
Macduff Troy Willis
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REVIEWS

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Fair is foul and foul is fair
by Lady Mac
Thursday, October 13, 2011
4.5
The first indication that this is not your usual staging of “Macbeth” is the appearance of the Weird Sisters. Usually the play’s witches are cloaked in dark robes, with only their gnarled hands protruding. This time, they are jarringly lovely (albeit offbeat) young ladies in long skirts, with only slightly sinister makeup to suggest that evil could lurk beneath the flowing blond locks. They look more like the offspring of a Goth rocker and a Renaissance Festival wench than the triplet sisters of the Grim Reaper. How could you not trust such cherubic faces as these, right?! The disarming contrast sets the stage for a new take on the play -- one that introduces deep themes, challenges beliefs about fate vs. self-determination, and horrifies and captivates at every turn.

The witches’ appearance isn’t the only difference. They also play a far larger and more controlling role in these proceedings – appearing in scenes as macabre puppeteers, representing fate or divine beings or just simply angry outcasts out to wreak vengeance on an entire nation through the ego of one man. These are not just catalysts; they are active participants, manipulating Macbeth and others to ensure the fulfillment of an overriding plan. In a sense, they reflect Macbeth’s own inability to let fate unfold without his interference. Whether you accept this interpretation of the witches’ involvement or not, you’ll acknowledge that it’s masterfully carried out.

But enough (for now) about the Weird Sisters. This play pivots on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and on their changing relationships with each other and with the world they inhabit. Andrew Houchins and Mary Russell are excellent in the roles.

Houchins transforms throughout the play -- as pressure mounts and his body and mind are deprived of rest and solace -- from a somewhat timid, basically nice guy to an overconfident, bloodthirsty maniac. The more things spiral out of control, the stronger his confidence in his grasp on the wheel. Houchins is believable and riveting at every step.

Russell looks gorgeous when she enters the stage – breathtaking brunette wig and gown – and within moments solidifies the “can’t judge a book by its cover” truth as she shares her venomous thoughts first with the audience and then with her malleable spouse, whom she fears is “too filled with the milk of human kindness.” Not long ago I found Russell, who often plays the sweet ingénue, a little difficult to buy as Kate in “Taming of the Shrew”; there was no shred of doubt about her in this one. She dominated as the icy Lady Macbeth – and yet brought some of her more practiced vulnerability to the few moments of the play in which the ambitious queen’s conscience breaks through and gets the upper hand, however temporarily.

Together, the Macbeths are electric. Their scenes reflect a gamut of stages in their relationship – power- and desire-fueled passion, guilt-and-fear-induced strain, and a post-party-meltdown mix of concern and frustration. At every stage of the gradually disintegrating Macbeth marriage, the two are natural and convincing. The changing power dynamic – Lady Macbeth’s iron control over her weak-willed husband eventually giving way to an impulsive and irrational Macbeth’s charting his own course independent of his wife’s influence – flows naturally from the events of the play and the alterations in the characters and their interactions with each other.

All of the supporting actors are spot-on in their roles, too. Jonathan Horne does a fine job of the bizarre “I’m too evil to be king” ruse that Malcolm plays on Macduff, and that can be a tough call. As Macduff, Troy Willis has mostly angry vengeful wartime scenes, with the notable exception of the heartbreaking moment when he learns of his family’s murders, which Willis pulls off very well. Matt Nitchie and Nicholas Faircloth do good work, too, especially with their subtle expressions of discomfort at Macbeth’s increasingly unsettling and dangerous behavior. Daniel Parvis nails the play’s only comic scene (or what should be the play’s only comic scene, anyway) as the servant who imagines the various ways that professions will be received at hell’s gate while creatively procrastinating the answering of his own household’s door. (He also is the only person in the whole of Scotland with a Scottish accent, it seems. This might be distracting if it weren’t so darned entertaining.)

There were a few snags in the overall stellar performance. The moments just before the Macduff family massacre were odd, with Lady Macduff far too chipper and carefree in her banter with her daughter, considering the gravity of the situation (her husband’s abandonment of the family, not even the perils she doesn’t yet realize). The puppets out of the cauldron during the pivotal scene in which Macbeth learns about the marching forest, Macduff and those who aren’t “born of woman” provoke a little inappropriate snickering by audience members. It’s risky to employ puppets in this scene, and, though it’s overall effective, it still takes a nick out of the play’s dark tone. (Plus, the muffled voices coming from beneath the stage lack a bit of clarity – and volume.)

The jury is completely out on one scene: The Weird Sisters’ delivery of the ingredients in their gruesome broth – eye of newt and all that – is simultaneously disturbing, off-putting and appropriate. While most productions whisk through the grisly and offensive details, hoping the audience won’t notice the body parts of dead babies or “blaspheming Jew,” this one puts special emphasis on them, with the witches expressing mock sympathy and sarcastic “awww”s. At the same time that I wanted to dislike this decision, I also had to give it credit for underscoring just how detached these women are from the suffering of others. Their only reaction to the dismemberment of animals and humans is sadistic levity. Yikes.

It’s October. What better time for Shakespeare’s masterpiece about witches and ghosts? Yet the real magic of this reimagined “Macbeth” isn’t witchcraft; it’s the spellbinding work of director Laura Cole and an impressive cast.
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