Folger's Macbeth

When reviewing a play, the writing of the piece is more successful if the production is considered its own entity, weighed and considered on the basis of its own merits. However, this is virtually impossible as theatre does not exist in a bubble. Past productions remain in your head; past performances of the actors color your expectations. And given the fact that all the reviews for the Folger’s production of Macbeth have been glowing, I feel it only fair to make known that three short weeks ago I saw Rupert Goold’s production starring Patrick Stewart. It was as near a perfect production of Macbeth as I think I am ever liable to see. My review below may seem a bit harsh, and this may be part of the reason why.

The production at the Folger, co-directed by Aaron Posner and Teller (of Penn and Teller) has created much buzz and excitement. It would seem that a Macbeth full of magic and illusions would work so well. It doesn’t. In this production the magic does not add to the horror and the wonder, rather it detracts from it. It comes off as gimmicky. Instead of eliciting gasps from the audience, as moments in Macbeth should, you are thrown out of the story as you try and figure out how they did something. Many of the tricks seem to exist for their own sakes, instead of to further the story. (A talking baby doll evil spirit? Please.)

I think the reason the magic tricks did not work is not completely because of the tricks themselves, but rather because of the production as a whole. If you take away the magic and the blood and the music and the lights and just focus on what the actors are doing, the production fails miserably. The text is not well delivered: the actors use too many pauses and do not drive the text. The result is that the performance lacks energy, and the production feels much longer than its two hours and fifteen minutes.

Ian Merrill Peakes is however, a pretty good Macbeth. He is likeable, makes interesting choices, and does some fine work, especially in his final moments. Unfortunately he is backed up by a supporting cast that well, doesn’t really support. I suspect that both he and Kate Eastwood Norris (Lady Macbeth) have a better performance of these roles in them that would have been brought out by a better production.

The ensemble is almost uniformly unimpressive. Paul Morella (Banquo), who has been so good in the contemporary work I’ve seen him do, is lost when you put him in Shakespeare. His modern posture and lack of breath support work against him. Eric Hissom, Cleo House Jr. and Andrew Zox are the weird sisters, wearing Halloween masks and bloody wedding gowns which frankly make them come off a bit ridiculous and not threatening at all. But then, I have always found understated witches to be so much more creepy and effective.

The only actor in the supporting cast who was impressive was Cody Nickell as Macduff. Finally! An actor who knows how to speak the verse! But Macduff doesn’t enter until halfway through the play, and by then it is too late to save this production. And even Nickell’s performance is harmed by some of the bizarre choices made by the directors. Why does this play end with a long spotlight on a trembling Macduff? It was not clear to me why our final focus was directed here.

In the end this was a Macbeth with a lot of layers, but no foundation on which to build them.

2 stars
Through April 13th.


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