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a Thriller
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 981

SHOWING : October 08, 2004 - October 31, 2004



By William Shakespeare Directed by Drew Fracher October 8 - 31 Daniel May as Macbeth. Photo: Bill DeLoach Perfect for the Halloween season! Daniel May stars in Shakespeare’s wicked tale of murder, greed and conscience. Just as the Weird Sisters promise, Macbeth murders the beloved Duncan to become king. But blood begets blood in this haunting tangled web of intrigue. Georgia Shakespeare's all-star cast includes Brik Berkes, Chris Kayser, Courtney Patterson, and Marni Penning as Lady Macbeth. Featuring battle scenes choreographed by Fight Master Drew Fracher.

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When Concept Doesn't Work
by chapeldog
Monday, November 1, 2004
I am so discouraged with professional theatre in Atlanta. GSFs production of Macbeth is a shining example of what is wrong with almost every show in the city. I sat and watched this show and was constantly pinching myself - not because I was enthralled with the artistry of the the show, but rather the lack of one basic honest moment. Shakespeare really is badly performed when it becomes a bombastic display of verbal calisthenics. GSF has a tendency to hire actors that focus way too much on how the words sound rather than using the words to play an honest action on stage. Since this is a recurring theme in their shows, I should not be surprised by the product. Shakespeare is hightened language - absolutely - but it must seem to us , the audience, as though that hightened language is emmanating from living breathing human beings, not Shakespearian vocal coaches. Daniel May does the best he can within the limits of the director's "concept" - but that concept was fairly poor in concept and poorer in execution. The set is very interesting and serves all sorts of interesting uses within the play. The lighting is nice - though with the lack of need for Rep (less intruments at the designers disposal) I would have expected some more specific work. The casting of the witches as multiple roles that reenforces the idea of fate was a good chjoice, but the zombie Bruce Evers was sort of bizzare. Didn't pay off in any wat for me.

An example of completey wrong direction - the scene where Banquo comes back to haunt Macbeth at the dinner - the director has Macbeth flipping over the table and yelling about seeing the ghost. Wouldn't the other folks at the dinner say to themselves, "Hmmm - seems Macbeth is insane." Instead they should feel he is not well in some way - with most of his lines either spoken to himself or spoken to his wife. Instead, this odd bit of direction makes the scene completely unbelievable and contrived.

The fight scenes were laborious too - not very interesting.

Look - this is one poor man's opinion, but I need to see some seeringly honest moments on stage to buy into any play I attend. More and more theatre is focusing on the spectacle, and less and less on honesty. The result is boring as hell. No risk - no vulnerability - just bombast and words ..... no honest actions - nothing we can relate too and reflect on in our real life.

I also saw THE FOURTH WALL at the Alliance last week - ooooo very very bad play. Another example of the AD at the Alliance (and this has been true for years) feeling that the great actors from other cities must be brought in to make a show great. Well these particular actors were forgettable at best.

I am sad and see little hope for theatre in this town. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Deja Vu by Dedalus
I think ChapelDog and I had this same discussion following a show earlier this season, but here's another go.

"Emotional Truth" is one of those very subjective concepts that is almost impossible to articulate -- it falls under the "I know it when I see it" argument. And, to be fair, this is precisely what I criticized in Brik Berkes' performance.

A few things to consider:

(1) The frame of mind of the audience can be critical in accepting the "truth" of a performance. ChapelDog came from a bad experience at Alliance; that coupled with his prior GSF experiences may have predisposed him to not be very receptive to what was actually on stage. On the other hand, I've really enjoyed this season at GSF, and was very predisposed to accept the performances (despite having a memory of seeing Derek Jacobi at the RSC as the "gold standard.")

(2) Simple things may betray "emotional honesty" -- dialogue in Shakespearean Verse, projecting to the last row of the balcony, "cheat forward" blocking -- any of the "crafts" of the actor can all too easily sabotage the "art" -- and not to everybody in the same house.

(3) A misinterpretation (or alternate interpretation) of the text on the part of the viewer may undermine his or her acceptance of the Truth of the moment. The scene cited by ChapelDog worked for me, because I always saw that scene as the turning point in MacB's fortunes -- he behaves in a way that causes Lady MacB to "tap dance" an explanation to his guests, and for his guests to begin to think that "something is rotten in the state of Scotland." For this reason, big actions, big reactions, and stark guilt-ridden fear are entirely appropriate, and, in this case, worked very well (IMHO). In fact, the guests are SUPPOSED to think he may be losing his mind -- why else would Lade MacB have to go through her "dance?"

(4) Another preconception of mine that may have influenced my more favorable reaction is this -- too often, I have seen productions of Shakespeare where language, clarity, and articulation ("bombast" if you will) have been sacrificed at the altar of "emotional truth." The result has never been pretty. It's like watching someone emotionally masturbate while mumbling some drivel they obviously do not understand. Shakespeare is written so that, if the actor understands the texts, and delivers the texts as if he/she understands it, the "emotional truth" will be there. That's why I had no problems at all with believing the GSF performers as real characters more than as performers.

In any case, I think ChapelDog has done a service by focusing his review on this aspect -- it is a ripe topic for discussion:

(1) Are there objective markers for us as actors and as audience to recognize "emotional truth?"

(2) If different people can see the same performance and come away with different levels of acceptance, is any objective discussion of "emotional truth" possible?

(3) What role does the audience's state of mind play in accepting an actor as a real character rather than as a performer going through a dance?

Just some ideas to ponder ....

Predisposition by chapeldog
I actually went to this performance wanting a good experience. I was not predisposed to being negative about the show.

You make a point about emotional truth - but here's my take - yes two different people may see the same show and have tow different reactions. here's what i think may be happening in that instance - one has seen what good acting is and the other has been seeing lots of theatre in Atlanta and has gotten used to bad acting. Good acting = believable human behavior. Bad acting = anything that is fake, stagey, artificial, so focefully manipulated and awkward that we watch and say to ourselves, "what planet is this actor/person from exactly." I only want to see believable human behavior dictated by the playwright's given circumstances - anything else is ego and self-gratification for the actor.

Good Points by Dedalus
So, what you're saying is that you're right and anyone who disagrees with you just doesn't recognize bad acting? Wow! It's impressive that you can dump on the entire acting community as well as anyone who disagrees with you with one comment. That's a skill that'll get you elected to any office in the land.

Seriously, you don't have to "get used to bad acting" to recognize basic human behavior. Yes, I see a lot of theatre in Atlanta. I've also seen a lot of theatre in New York, London, Philadelphia, Canada, Pittsburgh, and other small towns across the Eastern Seaboard. Still, I don't consider myself an expert -- I can be fooled by razzle-dazzle, by seeing "friends," and by my preconceptions. I am also bored and somewhat offended by watching method-heavy actors who believe "emotional truth" is the be-all and end-all of acting.

I approach theatre (and my writings) like a director -- did this performance work? Did this conception hold together? How does this production compare to everything I've ever seen in my life? And, most important, do I recognize these characters as real human beings, or am I just watching actors "go through the motions."

In other words, I suspect you and I are on the same page on this -- we just have different threshholds. Experience and discernment have nothing (and everything) to do with it.

Question by JasonMeinhardt
I have to agree with Brad on this one. Chapel...what exactly did you mean by "used to bad acting"? I guess we could be taking your statement the wrong way, but did you mean Atlanta, as a whole, is a breeding ground for bad acting? Just curious.
Bad Acting by chapeldog
Sorry to wite my comment in such a way that I sound like I am putting everyone else down and that I'm the only "right" person. I sincerely didn't mean for it to come off that way.

I think it is easy for a community to come accept the same level of theatre - I believe we have crossed over into that land in Atlanta. There are so few examples of good acting, that people don't recognize it when they see it, and they are just happy to get something they can sit through more often than not. I've lived here since 1969, and the more I watch Atlanta audiences leap to their feet for mediocre acting and poor productions, the more I am convinced that the general public in Atlanta is fooled into thinking that "concept", bombast, self-aware acting, and poor productions are worth standing for and applauding.
It isn't surprising - the city is much more committed to sports and business than to fostering any sense of culture that is seriously supported. I guess Atlanta Theatres do the best they can on the budget they have, but when places like the Alliance and GSF (two of the largest budgets in the city for Theatre) do such a poor job of acting in their productions, either the person in charge of choosing the actors and production team are lost, or just not up to the job. FOURTH WALL may be the worst show at the Alliance - ever - though David Bell's production of Romeo & Juliet was astoundingly bad too years ago.
My comments come from a frustration - not from a "know it all" place - I have seen far better work in other cities and I am sorry that the town I love so much, accepts and fosters mediocrity. The size of the business communty in Atlanta would seem to be able to offer far better support than it does, but since the level of work is so low and inconsistant, I think they shy away and support far less challanging things in town.
Atlanta will continue to suffer artistically until the good actors stay because they too are committed to the arts in Atlanta. Many run to NY and LA because they know they can find more challanging work there than here. Heaven knows the level of theatre in NY has gone down over the last 10 - 12 years because of the desire to place TV and film personalities on stage - though they are completely unprepared for technique they must command to act on stage.
I love theatre - there is nothing like live theatre when it is great. There is also nothing so horrible as live theatre when it is poorly performed.
I guess I am very depressed about the state of live theatre in general in America. We have so much to offer, but since we have a free market system to operate within, our theatre is safe, formulistic and not very deep. We take works like Shakespeare and make them concept productions rather than layered and meaningful.
re: bad acting by mark
i saw macbeth at the gsf, and although the acting wasnt consistently stellar, it was good enough. you appear to be looking for an idealistically amount of talent and accomplishment. rare you'll find a great actor, for great acting requires a rare gift. those that have it move on to florida, new york or california. but i agree with you in a sense. atlanta gets what it pays for. until patrons come out in droves, the revenue isnt there to support a vibrant professional scene. meanwhile our community theaters take on the burden. they struggle too, but here you will find much of atlanta's best talent, for they keep their day jobs. i mean, when little general has better shakespeare than theater on the square, you know somethings wrong.
The Other Direction by Dedalus
ChapelDog makes some good points. Probably the reason my reactions are so different from his are just as simple as his -- I've seen a lot of really really bad acting at various theatres in the area (most of which I don't bother reviewing for one reason or another). So, when I see something that is competent, if not through-the-roof, I tend to believe it and cherish it. I've also seen plays of little merit get standing ovations, and stuff that was "through-the-roof" go virtually unattended. People stand for so many reasons -- family ties to the cast, cramped legs, attempts to beat the crowd to the bathroom -- I've stopped taking ovations as any indications of performance quality or even audience sophistication. I just wish they wouldn't encourage some theatres to continue baaaaaad habits.

Ahem, and methinks someone has a bone to pick by bellsplayer
Make up your mind:
(review of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged))
"I'm moving back to New York - another show by this company seems to be going unseen by Atlanta. I've lived in Atlanta for about five years and nothing seems to change."

Comments here: "I've lived here since 1969, "

Which of these statements is not true?

And why all the glowing reviews of ATA shows?

ATA by th8rluvr
I don't know why he doesn't know how long he's lived here, but I can vouch that every show I saw at ATA deserved glowing reviews!!
ATA by bellsplayer
My point was not that ATA didn't deserve the good reviews, but that until this review, all (but one) of his previous reviews were ATA shows, including one remount he hadn't seen yet, which were given high marks. Sort of smells like an insider.

Response by chapeldog
Both statements are true - have lived here since 1969 and lived in New York too during some of that time.

ATA does great shows - sorry if it sounds like I'm an insider, but I'm not (wish I was).

Look at all the other reviews I've written. I see a ton of work in town, but rarely feel moved to write -
When Concepts Work
by Dedalus
Thursday, October 28, 2004
The Georgia Shakespeare Festival at Oglethorpe University has built its reputation on competently performed, innovatively conceived interpretations of classic and contemporary plays. The idea of a “conception” is that the Shakespeare canon is rich enough, subtle enough, and flexible enough that it will survive a director’s personal imprint on the production. When it succeeds, a good concept shows us a doorway into the work we may not have taken before, a new way of looking at a play we may have seen countless times before. When a concept fails, it is usually because the director hasn’t thought it through completely, or because it forces the characters and plot into a stream that drowns the text rather than floats it.

GSF has had its share of hits and misses. In the last few seasons, we have seen successful visions of “Coriolanus,” “The Tempest,” and “Julius Caesar.” We have also seen distracting to disastrous visions of “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Comedy of Errors,” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” There have also been controversial visions – I liked the dream-like surrealism of last year’s “Cymbeline,” but it left others confused and angry.

With its Fall mounting of “MacBeth” GSF shows once again a vision that succeeds on every level – a bloody-handed Halloween show that surprises without compromising our expectations or betraying the text.

The most obvious change from the standard view is the youth of the MacBeth’s. Daniel May and Marni Penning are not the mature, older couple I’ve seen before in other productions and films. They are young, sexual, still filled with the sense-of-being-immortal that most of us grow out of when we get into our thirties. This choice adds an emotional drive to their story – their ambitions and disappointments make more sense when taken in the context of youth and sensuality. In an RSC production ten years ago, the wonderful Derek Jacobi ended his life by pulling MacDuff’s sword into his own world-weary breast before uttering the immortal “Lay on MacDuff” line. In the context of that production, it was a choice that worked and moved. You would never see Daniel May’s bare-chested king make this choice – here, a desperate (and breath-takingly well-staged) final duel to the death is the only option that could work.

Don’t you just love that Shakespeare allows two such diametrically opposed interpretations to work within the same play?

Another conceptual choice was the decision to have the three witches play all the servants, messengers, and murderers as themselves. This allowed them a more direct hand in the process of the action, more of a direct control over what is now obviously a master plan. As played by Sherman Fracher, Bruce Evers, and Alison Hastings, these three now assume the role of master puppeteers – they even appear at various points in the actions to remind us that they are still pulling all the strings.

I also liked the look of the play – dim side-lights, a gray cliff-face set, and costumes running the gamut from grubby to regal all contributed to creating world inhabited by these people, a Halloween Funhouse with lightning, decapitations, spurting blood, ominous sounds, and sudden death.

I was somewhat disappointed a few of the performances, particularly Brik Berkes’ lackluster MacDuff. A late scene between him and Chris Ensweiler’s Malcolm seemed to go on forever. I’ve liked Mr. Berkes in other shows, but here, and in Theatre in the Square’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” he seems to rely on competent line readings and facial hair to carry his performances – there has been no emotional depth. When he wails at the murder of his family, it was almost as if he were whining over a lost trinket – I had no sense of loss or pain or guilt or truth – just an actor going through the motions.

But, in the final analysis, this is a minor quibble in what is probably the best-conceived, best-staged offering of this above-average GSF season. I strongly recommend you catch it this final weekend. This is a show filled with sound and fury, signifying something a bit more than nothing.

--- Brad Rudy (



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