ANTAEUS’ MACBETH ISN’T DREADFUL, BUT IT DIDN’T FILL ME WITH DREAD
The Antaeus Company is not known for shying away from difficult material, especially when it comes to classical theatre, and their talented troupe typically breathes new life into old works with aplomb. Yet, their new double-cast production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth seemed somewhat flat, at least to this writer. When I was underwhelmed by the first cast, nicknamed “The Thanes,” I pinned my hopes on the second, nicknamed “The Kinsmen.” While I enjoyed the play much more the second time, having the plot fresher in my mind perhaps, I was still disappointed by the production. My different companion each evening, however, enjoyed the production. Perhaps I was expecting more, since this was not my first Antaeus show?
Shakespeare’s Macbeth, or The Tragedy of Macbeth, is typically dated to the years immediately following the coronation of James I as King of England in 1603. James, who was also King of Scotland, believed himself to be descended from Banquo, the noble friend of Macbeth. While the play is not considered one of Shakespeare’s histories, it is loosely based on historical events. While Shakespeare could have used the central idea of the witches’ prophecy as a vehicle for exploring the perennial philosophical problem of free will vs determinism, he instead chooses to focus on his titular character’s treachery and madness. This has the effect of making Macbeth far darker than Hamlet and King Lear, despite the shared theme of madness. With so many characters dying left and right, it could perhaps be compared to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, whose titular character also oversees plenty of murder and bloodlust.
Performances by each cast were so similar that the differences seemed principally physical. In “The Thanes” production, Rob Nagle was tall and imposing as Macbeth, while Bo Foxworth had intensely expressive eyes in the other. Both are talented actors, but Foxworth’s portrayal of Macbeth’s madness came across more naturally. I also enjoyed John Sloan’s rendering of Ross and Ramon Ocampo’s Banquo, which each played with the necessary nobility of their respective characters. Ann Noble and Tessa Auberjonois, who each played Lady Macbeth, gave competent performances, but I would have preferred to see a stronger, more physical performance from each. While neither is helped by their slightness of stature, I have to admit that Auberjonois’ scream at the beginning did send shivers down my spine. One of the most interesting casting decisions was to have the same actor play the parts of Duncan and Seyton: when Seyton first appears onstage after Duncan’s death, it’s as though the latter had come back to some kind of purgatorial existence; the effect is somewhat eerie.
Tom Buderwitz’s set design is wonderfully simple and effective. Foliage around the edges doubles as a forest, a raised central platform keeps the witches separate, and two doors on either side allow for constant ingress and egress of actors. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting design deserves mention, especially for the way a fire appears to flame up below the witches’ cauldron. The most distracting aspect of production design, however, is the costumes. Rather than dress the characters in full tartan kilts, Jessica Olson superimposes various bits of plaid fabric onto the men’s khaki green skirts and drapes a bit more of the same plaid over their shoulders like a sash. The result looks rather too homemade. Her effort to give the fighting men a more martial look by providing them with leather breastplates and wristbands comes off much more successfully, though.
When Antaeus Co-Artistic Director Bill Brochtrup introduced Macbeth on opening night as “the Scottish play” rather than naming it explicitly, he was referring to long-held superstitions. Many in Shakespeare’s own time believed that the playwright had used spells of real witches in his tragedy, which angered the witches and led them to curse its performance. To say the name of Macbeth, therefore, could bring misfortune on a production. I am pleased to reveal that Brochtrup did not persist in this superstition the following night and that no mishaps ensued.
While director Jessica Kubzansky doesn’t shy away from the play’s darker moments, she doesn’t exactly play them up either. A little more horror, in this writer’s opinion, could have made the tale of treachery, murder, and madness much more powerful and moving. As it was, Macbeth seemed to be full of characters with whom it was tough to engage. It’s difficult to fault any one thing in the production, but overall it left a somewhat weak impression; others might disagree.
“The Kinsmen” photos by Daniel Blinkoff
“The Thanes” photos by Daniel G. Lam
The Antaeus Company at Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood
scheduled to end on August 26, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.antaeus.org