There was no "adapted by" credit for the New Ensemble Theatre Company's production of Macbeth, but 90 intermissionless minutes later, all the witches' prophecies had come to pass. Their roles were abbreviated, with some of their business given to others, but this is not the Reduced Shakespeare Co. version - though it was better in parts than as a whole.
Director Bob D'Haene's approach was signaled right at the start, when bagpipe playing was replaced by modern music, a Ninja-style battle, and "Fair is foul and foul is fair," was repeated in the blackness. (The witches didn't show up until "Hail, Thane of Cawdor.") The action proceeded swiftly, and the most welcome sight was Nell Gwynn as Lady Macbeth. Red red lips, kohl-rimmed eyes, a black flowing dress with sleeves made to be worked, and a definite air of Tallulah Bankhead about her. But stay with me here - she was totally fierce and completely without camp. Seductive, stern, controlling, and riveting, she made it clear why Macbeth (Paul Angelo) would originally have been taken with her (how long have they been married, anyway?) and why she still has such sway over him.
Angelo was a well-spoken Macbeth, but he didn't stand out in the cast, a problem because there were a couple of excellent performances among the six actors who did duty for all other roles. Tanisha Thompson was excellent as Banquo, so natural that she hardly seemed to be acting, and she also gave stature to Lady Macduff. Yes, the script is heavily tilted in favor of those characters, but Thompson's words did not have to be translated by the brain before they reached the heart. Duncan Hazzard was astounding as he went from Duncan to the Porter, Macduff's son, the sleepwalk-observing doctor, and Seyton. The other multiple-role players unfortunately tended to blend together rather than be distinctive creations.
Many individual scenes were outstanding - Duncan was treated to a good, well-staged murder; the banquet scene was actually funny, as Lady Macbeth covered for Macbeth - as any hostess would when her husband acts bizarrely. Lady Macbeth also channeled the witches - their final pronouncements were given through her when she was in bed - which was fine because it gave Gwynn more stage time, and it connected to the sleepwalking scene (who would want to stay in bed after going through that?). The sleepwalk was a true mad scene, Gwynn's hair messed and makeup smudged, but oh how ferocious she was.
Besides some benches, the set (by Michael Ferguson) was a black gauze curtain around the sides and back of the stage. Action played behind the scrim had a purposely dreamlike effect, sometimes as counterpoint to the action in front. The costumes (by Nicole Porto) were mostly long coats in muted colors - archaic, yet terribly fashionable. The witches were masked, with dark cowls ringed in red. The music (uncredited) was well-used, functioning like soundtrack music, underscoring scenes and punctuating scene changes. Lighting (Brian Grobowski) beautifully reflected the moods.
Sitting in the back of the theater was the best strategy, because "Macbeth hath murdered sleep" was staged in the theater's center aisle, and from the back you could see Gwynn best.
Also with Darrin Fitzgerald, Heather Lamb, David Look, and Jason Williams.
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler