Bard bent but not spent


By William Shakespeare
Directed by Alexa Kelly
Pulse Ensemble Theatre
432 W. 42nd St. (279-4200)
Non-union production (closes Sept. 5)
Review by David Mackler

The time: present. The place: Scot's Turf, The Inner City. The graffiti: "Scots Rock." The language: Shakespeare. This summer's boomlet of alt.Macbeth productions continues with Pulse Ensemble Theatre's macBETH, different emphasis intended. Beth and Lady (as they are known by the tattoos on each other's arms) conspire to murder Duncan, a Latino gang leader. The turf is up for grabs.

The traffic noise from 42nd Street was the perfect accompaniment to this setting, performed in an outdoor courtyard on Theatre Row, and neither the possibility of rain nor an unusually cool August evening dampened the exuberance of the cast. Director Alexa Kelly staged the play above, over, and around every available piece of architecture, as well as a well-designed scaffold (set design by Roger Hanna). Kelly's approach made good use of modern conveniences (when one witch asks the other two "When shall we three meet again?," why shouldn't it be via three-way calling?) Her interpolation of a prologue where three children are murdered in their mother's arms in a playground brought currency to the deaths we know will follow - and it was a terrific touch for the mothers to become the witches.

And whether you bought the premise of "Beth" and "Lady" as a way of presenting the Scottish play, there was astounding strength in the performances of Kittson O'Neill (Beth) and Kimberley Myles (Lady). Lady was toned seductive steel, and macBeth, though tough and strong, was completely in thrall to her seductive power. This approach caused problems with the script - when bidding her wife to "bring forward male children only," Macbeth seems to repudiate what the audience sees - that these women are more fear-inspiring than any of the men. But O'Neill makes Macbeth's later equivocation and confusion crystal clear, even bordering on sympathetic. Myles controlled the stage with her barely concealed fury in every strut and command.

Other performances were a varied lot. Notable were Poorna Jagannathen as Banquo, although she (yes, Banquo was female as well) was better in her one-on-one scenes than in groups; and Stephanie Clarke, good as Lady MacDuff but better as Seton. A terrific directorial choice late in the play had Banquo and Seton dressed alike and moving in unison, making an unsettling moment positively creepy. Jack Sundmacher was very strong as Malcolm, believably growing (if that's the word) from someone made ill by committing murder to one ready to take power. Laura Johnston, Molly Harrigan, and Josephine Wan were good as Mothers and Witches; Jennifer Jonassen was a strong, threatening Hecate. Other performances were not delineated enough to make a mark and got lost in the shuffle: David Marion was an unfortunately weak MacDuff. However, a special commendation must go to the young actress Yie Yin Foong, who, as the doomed Young Seward, brought the horror of gang warfare into majestic relief. The character's death was extremely well staged, but Foong evidenced a maturity beyond her years. Moments like that swept all other directorial reservations aside.

Costumes (Linda Ross) well suited the characters, and when natural lighting no longer sufficed, Aaron Meadow provided good artificial. Toxic Trio contributed excellent and evocative original music. And look for a very funny joke concerning the operating hours of Birnam Wood. (Also with Anthea Fane, Elliot G. Robinson, Scott Ferrel, Brian Richardson, Caitlin Wan Sequira, George Trahanis.)
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 David Mackler