Last fall President Poskanzer cited ambition as one quality he wished Carls had a bit more of. I was thinking about this, as it happens, just as I first saw one of sharp posters advertising the production of Macbeth that took place last week in the Weitz. The Shakespeare thriller demands vaulting ambition – not to mention a considerable dose of toil and trouble – to realize successfully, and director Daisuke Kawachi along with senior leads Emily Altschul and Chris Densmore stepped up admirably.
The play traces the rise and fall of the titular king in a Scotland drenched in the blood of regicide, fratricide and suicide.
Altschul really shined as Lady Macbeth, the spur that pricks her husband’s attempt at the thrown. Her horrified “so much blood” speech was a definite high moment of the performance.
Chris Densmore, who like Altschul was participating in the play as part of his Comps, was a gallant Macbeth, timing his outbursts well, especially at the end when the once-noble soldier is reduced to a petty, insecure tyrant.
Macbeth, even by Shakespeare standards, is incredibly difficult to stage – it’s more of a feverish nightmare than a play, racing through five acts in half the number of lines (and twice gore) of a Hamlet. The actors and the audience have little time to catch their breath, meaning someone not acquainted with the story might have difficulty following along. Because of the pace, I never really grasped the interpretation of the main power couple’s relationship that was pushed for in the director’s note, and the blocking in their scenes to me was more confusing than illustrative (for instance, when Lady Macbeth would announce she was leaving but then Macbeth would still walk away with her).
A question the cast no doubt spent much time grappling with is how to integrate the Weird Sister scenes with the rest of the action (or not, as happened when they cut from the script Hecate’s part). I don’t fully understand the witches’ role in the play, but did feel it was a bit, well, weird when they stood on the sides watching the men in anachronistic military uniforms. That said, the witch scenes were visually very compelling, particularly when the sisters took turns conjuring up prophecies. Laura Freymiller was especially expressive and chilling.
Unfortunately, because Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the only characters the script takes time to give any depth, not a lot of room was afforded for the experienced supporting cast to fully show its talent. The scenes in which the Macbeths are not together (especially from the time after Duncan’s murder to Lady Macbeth’s madness) felt occasionally a bit flat. Will Gray (with the aid of a catheter) did have a funny go as the drunken porter, and Dan Peck delivered an emotionally powerful spell as Macduff finding out about his murdered family.
A very thoughtful decision on the part of Kawachi was to use the same actors in multiple roles to highlight similarities between characters. For example, Gray’s characters (Duncan, the porter, and the doctor) all somehow remained untainted by the psychic illness that had plagued the rest of Scotland, and the actors who played the cruel and slavish witches likewise doubled back as Macbeth’s henchmen.
As a whole, this Macbeth moved too quickly (for me at least) to really dwell in the “Caesar or nothing” dilemma of the Macbeths. Some of the famous sections, like the climactic “Tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, perhaps came across as more recitation than realization. But it did contain many excellent moments, subtle lighting, awesome sword fights and much more so as to leave lots for the well-filled audience, and by challenging itself to take up such a difficult material the cast no doubt learned immensely.
**For something in a similar (sort of) vein, be sure to come to I Hate Hamlet this weekend in Little Nourse.**