Macbeth Beyond Thunderdome at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival
January 28, 2013
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This Macbeth may get lots of ribbing for its post-apocalyptic Mad Max feel. Visually, though, the play was stunning and austere. The stage was neither too cluttered nor too large for its intimate violence and sordid soliloquies. The music, props, costumes, and special effects rarely detracted from the narrative. Alabama’s Shakespeare Festival can boast of an excellent production.
The acting in this production, however, was uneven. In small measure, this was because it was opening night. The audience could feel that the actors were uneasy in front of a full-ish house. The actors seemed to be aware that the direction lacked gravitas and that they were being mishandled. Macbeth was competent and enjoyable, but too sensitive and insufficiently scary as the play accelerates. One senses that he had read one too many new age self-help books on how to be a better husband and butcher. Lady Macbeth, before she gets the crazies, is overwrought. She moved too much and was too physically imposing in her sultry costume; so much so that one wondered if Macbeth could become as terrifying as his wife (he did not). One could not help but think of Hamlet’s admonition: “Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus…” Lady Macbeth overacted, which detracted from her bone chilling lines. Actors and directors need to remember that their acting and directing cannot improve upon Shakespeare’s words. Both Mr. and Mrs Macbeth, as did the play, did get better as it moved relentlessly along. By the end one senses that the actors were more misdirected than miscast.
Perhaps the most disappointing parts of the play were the scenes with the witches and what passes for clowns in Macbeth. As with Lady Macbeth, the witches overacted and wound up detracting from their funny and creepy rhymes. More generally, the director failed to subordinate this play’s visual candy to the language. This applies with a vengeance to the pre-murder scene with Lady Macduff, played by a stunning black actress and a white boy. The boy was perfect but Lady Macduff’s enfeebled delivery vitiated what should have been a magnificent scene. It was clear when it was over that it lacked the emotional punch needed to set up Macduff’s wrath. Macduff, by the way, is well-casted as are Banquo, Malcolm, and Duncan. The Porter is an excellent comic actor who should be banished from all future Shakespeare plays for demonstrating a most pitiful ambition in efforts to garner cheap laughs from an over-eager audience. Shakespeare aficionados could not help but cringe at his antics, which again brought Hamlet to mind: “and let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them…”
I highly recommend seeing this production of Macbeth. It is particularly special to see it in Dixie, where the natural mix of black and white actors on the stage feels natural in ways that would be difficult to fathom in New York or London. Be prepared, though, to get annoyed with a most imprudent director who fails to suit the actions to the words.