It took a little while for the American Globe Theatre's production of Macbeth to find its tone. Various elements were presented -- soldiers entering on their bellies from underneath a stage platform like jungle fighters, luscious soundtrack-quality music (composed by sound designer Scott O'Brien), tableaux' being struck, witches' personae varying from overtly sexual to old crone. But it was not until Lady Macbeth showed up giving a crystal-clear reading of Macbeth's letter that it all snapped into place. Beginning with the letter, Elizabeth Keefe established Lady M as a character of high drama beholden to no one, supremely confident of (and glorifying in) her own power. It was astounding that all this came just from reading a letter, but it was only the beginning for Keefe. This Lady Macbeth was full throated and used sexuality as a weapon -- she was both temptress and nemesis. Slightly over the top, but never outside the realm of theatrical reality -- she was breathtaking to watch and listen to throughout. She set the timbre of the play, and everyone rose to her level.
Shakespeare's words set the scenes, of course, but the performances made the characters. The play's action can mostly carry itself, but John Basil's direction emphasized character and (thankfully!) an understanding of the words. The set (designed by Vincent A. Masterpaul), a stage-wide platform with stairs on each side, was specifically non-specific, but served its own purpose -- when Duncan (Warren Watson) proclaimed new titles for his victorious soldiers from the top of the stairs, the splattered red that surrounded him reflected the battle just fought, Duncan's own fate, and the bloodshed to come. Unfortunately, the set, in conjunction with the theatre, served to bounce the actors' voices around, giving something of an echo-chamber effect. The King Arthur-style costumes (designed by Jim Parks) didn't absorb much sound.
Although not a teenager, Justin Ray Thompson's Macbeth had the energy, fears, and impetuousness of an adolescent. The sex drive too -- this Macbeth and Lady were consumed with each other. He was thrilled at having such a lusty partner, unaware she was manipulating for power with the best weapon she had. Which gave this Macbeth an unusual amount of charm, made his ambivalence beautifully clear, and gave him a sharper than usual double nature -- as when he talks himself into the necessity of killing Banquo and Fleance, or his bluster when he thinks he's invincible.
In this production it all came back to character and detail -- watching Lady Macbeth and Banquo try in differing ways to influence Macbeth; Lady Macbeth unwilling to get off the throne when Macbeth bids her go, her taken aback at the monster she created, being both funny and gruesome when she came back bloody, and a truly heartbreaking sleepwalk; the scene of Malcolm with Macduff, with Malcolm (Dennis Turney) quite kingly, and Macduff (Justin Lewis) humanizing him; Macduff's real despair and desire for revenge after the rape and murder of his wife and family; and an extremely well-fought battle between Macduff and Macbeth (fight director Joseph Travers). Lighting designer Mark Hankla's work was unobtrusive, but with some excellent effects, like Lady Macbeth's shadow for "unsex me here."
Current reality was invoked at the end by Malcolm's realization that there must be a renewal after the bloody war -- that there is dubious glory in victory, and issuing a call for nations to work together. High drama, bordering on melodrama, suits Macbeth, and the director- and actor-added gestures, looks, and bits of business combined to give character tremendous depth. Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest, but at the American Globe, there were almost too many dynamic characters to fit on stage at once.
Also with Danielle Liccardo, Emmanuella Souffrant, Betty Hudson, Chant Macleod, David Winton, Richard Fay, Damon Kinard, Victor Dickerson, Jonah Spear, Shay Ansari, George Harrington Butts, Florence Clutch.
Lighting: 2/Sound: 1
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Copyright 2002 David Mackler