In the comfortable and attractive little theater on West 99th Street and Broadway, Alexander Barnett played the Scottish king and directed an uneven two-and-a half hour production of Shakespeare's great tragedy with a mixed bag of performances ranging from poor to very good. While it's obvious that Mr. Barnett is a capable actor, few actors, save such as Olivier or Gielgud, have attempted to play a major leading role and also direct; it's just not a good idea, for a number of reasons: the chief and obvious one being that directors cannot see themselves on stage.
This play seemed to be a disjointed series of relatively short scenes that did not build dramatically and contained very few moments of high drama. The play lacked a strong directorial hand or vision. Things started badly on the ragged heath, when it soon became clear that the director had decided that all three witches had speech impediments. This meant that their speeches, following the "When shall we three meet again" opening speech, went on about four times longer than they normally would. To paraphrase Wilde, one speech impediment is unfortunate, but three seem like carelessness. This particular conceit very quickly became irritating. Mr. Barnett also rewrote Shakespeare by bringing back two of the three murderers to strangle Macduff and Ross as Malcolm gave his closing speech at the end of the play. Surely if the Bard of Avon had wanted the play to end that way he would have written it so. Sadly this production turned into a great deal of sound and fury that added up to an unsatisfactory whole.
Mr. Barnett was frankly miscast as Macbeth: he lacked the necessary stature and his performance failed to gradually build throughout the play as he is egged on by his wife. It was a nice touch, though, to have him hit the bottle early on and hit it even more as things fell apart for him. Linda Ramzell was a strong Lady Macbeth; David Simpson a convincing Macduff; but Chip Persons's Malcolm was altogether too laid back. Ed Gildersleeve as the Porter squandered a wonderful opportunity for comic relief with his mugging as a drunken porter. Will Buchanan (Duncan) looked every inch a King and served his role royally too. Quite the best work was done by Jolie Garrett. Mr. Garrett's fine and authoritative Banquo, spoken beautifully, served to suggest what this production might have achieved with better direction and casting. It was unfortunate that Banquo is killed off relatively early in the play.
The set was a bare stage except for a chair (throne) and two large banners portraying Macbeth and Malcolm (Charles Roden); costumes (Solveig Foster and Claudio Amaral de Mello) were quite acceptable, suggesting considerable imagination given a tight budget; sound and light (Larry Burns) adequate.
Also featuring Dan Galperin, Paris Kiely, Maggie
Maes, Rebecca Roe, Francesca MacAaron, John
Paterson, Charles Roden, and Nathan M. White.
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Copyright 1999 Dudley Stone