Taking the curse off the Bard


by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jay Michaels
Genesis Repertory Ensemble
Jan Hus Playhouse
351 E. 74th St. (718-932-3577)
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Julie Halpern

Opening night of Macbeth at Genesis Repertory began with a pagan ritual, complete with fragrant incense, incantations, and a mix of African and Shamanic drumming throughout. The goal of the ritual was to purge the 400-year-old curse that has supposedly wreaked havoc on so many productions of this play. Many are afraid to speak its name, referring to it simply "the Scottish play." Is the curse the work of the goddess Hecate, or perhaps a coven of Shakespeare's contemporaries seeking revenge for intrusion into their personal rites? Happily, this performance was free of catastrophe. The ritual, incorporating dance and sign language, was fascinating at first, but became monotonous after the first 20 minutes.

Set in Peronist Argentina in the 1940s, it was a relief to see no traces of Andrew Lloyd Webber's vision of the period, and Jay Michaels's concept of the gritty, sweaty, cigar-smoke-filled ambience was quite convincing. Unfortunately, a great idea was intruded on by frequent reappearances of the witches and atmospheric devices that pulled focus from the political hotbed from which the murderous plot unfolds.

Paul James Bowen, as Macbeth, beautifully articulated the conflict of a man who craves power but is unprepared for the price his treachery will cause him. Powerful and compelling in scenes with his colleagues, he was strangely passive in his scenes with his wife (Elizabeth MiCari), and their lack of chemistry caused MiCari to work too hard, revealing her character's true nature too soon. MiCari found her stride in the sleepwalking scene. She contributed some hair-raising moments, unafraid to use her body in what came across as frighteningly uncontrolled actions.

James Oligney contributed a moving, disturbing Banquo, and Sid Hammond gave a brilliantly realized performance as Macduff, running the gamut of emotions and galvanizing the audience with his magnetic stage presence. Michael Fortunato's youthful, impassioned Malcolm was a pleasure. Roland Johnson was a warm, regal, and engaging presence as Duncan, and Ian Tomaschik's earthy, cigar-puffing Ross was an authentic relic of the period. Josh Blumenfeld performed his role of the Murderer almost entirely in Spanish, but no one needed subtitles to sense his malevolence and delight in his work. His brutal murder of Lady Macduff and her family was almost too painful to watch. Milda De Voe's Lady Macduff was surprisingly dispassionate in her scenes with her son (the delightful Andrew G. Liebowitz), and Barbara Iona Miller was a sensual, riveting Hecate.

Brian Brewer, Amanda Jones, and Amy K. Browne as the Weird Sisters made the most of their moments onstage. Travis Taylor, Robert F. Saunders, Alexandra Mingione, Kristen Napiorkowski, and Melissa Colon contributed high-energy support in smaller roles.

Adam Bair's evocative use of red stage lights to suggest the bloodiness of the proceedings was successful at first but resulted in overkill as the evening progressed. Sky Walters and Sid Hammond created a simple, functional set design that worked well. The uncredited costumes looked good and gave ease of movement. Timothy Fait's fight choreography was top-notch, as was Mia Mendocino's ebullient dance choreography.
Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern