In a small corner of the soccer field of Inwood Hill, a beautiful park at the northern tip of Manhattan, nature provided an extraordinary backdrop for the Inwood Shakespeare Festival's production of Macbeth. Manmade distractions competed for the audience's attention (nearby baseball games, road/plane/train noise), and the audience itself was a mix of casual observers and Bard-lovers. Actors spouting iambic pentameter were fighting an uphill battle, and the winners in this case weren't always those you would expect.
For even though the dialogue is by Shakespeare, an outdoor performance needs to be calibrated differently from one indoors. Of necessity, this production (directed by Artemis Preeshl) was often played at a high pitch, but much was of the stand-and-declaim style. While this could occasionally be effective, it made for some odd juxtapositions. The play's action got swiftly underway with the prognostications of the witches (Margarita Ruiz, Donna Stearns, and Yolanda Hester), and Macbeth's rapid ascent. Lady Macbeth (Artemis Preeshl)'s "screw your courage . . . and we'll not fail" came through loud and clear, played with a dynamic salesmanship. Yet although the program credits a Lady Macbeth scene coach, the role model seems to have been Christine Baranski, only without the humor (except for her absurd auburn-red wig, that is. And it's your nipple and the baby's toothless gums, by the way.)
Macbeth (Ted Minos) on his own managed to convey a measure of kingliness combined with befuddlement at what he's gotten himself into. (His connection to his wife seemed tenuous, though, except for his shock of blond-red hair. Interesting touch, that.) Aaron Morgan showed an admirable sensitivity as Banquo, but his polar opposite was Ray A. Rodriguez as Macduff, full of bluster and spleen but no discernible feeling. This tilted sentiment to Malcolm, not usually one of the more sympathetic characters, who was played by Eddie Boroevich with a combination of gritty determination and puppy-dog exuberance.
Many bits were notable, sometimes merely for making a point or scene clear above the distractions. As the Porter who must answer the relentless ringing bell, A.J. Triano made a comic gem of an appearance. It was shtick of course, and completely unsubtle, but it accomplished everything required in the outdoor setting. In a different guise he played Ross nearly as well, giving comfort to a somewhat overwrought Lady Macduff (Donna Stearns). In several parts, Frank Zilinyi's plummy tones rang clear and true.
Costumes (Marie Suissa) were mostly belted tunics, and the set (Ted Minos) was a simple lattice screen set-up. Only once was the extraordinary setting used to the full, when the screens were drawn aside as Malcolm and his soldiers really did seem to bring Birnam Wood to Dunsinane. Special mention to Eric Starr, who did wonders with a tin flute, and whose bells and drumming served as punctuation to the action and still managed to register over wind and bats hitting balls.
While it's true the actors in the Globe had to deal with the rabble in the stalls, there was still a circumscribed space. But while the 40-foot trees of Inwood Hill Park were an incorrigible scene-stealer, there was an unmistakable charge to hearing Shakespeare in such a glorious setting.
Also with Kevin G. Shinnick, Derek Devareaux, Art Goyette, Michael Connolly, Andrew Platner, Howard Laniado, Gabriel Portuondo, and Tom Steinbach.
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler