In the Mary Moody Northen Theatre production of Macbeth, the famously ambitious duo who murders its way to the top might well be the friendly couple next door
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Feb. 23, 2007
Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through Feb. 25
Running Time: 2 hr, 10 min
"Come, seeling night," requests Lord Macbeth midway through Shakespeare's tragedy. "Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day/And with thy bloody and invisible hand/Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond/Which keeps me pale!" It's a memorable, not to mention rather grisly, invocation of nightfall, but long before it's made in the Mary Moody Northen Theatre production, darkness has descended on this world and in a most palpable way. Guest lighting designer Stephen Pruitt has marshaled his illumination so carefully that a thick blanket of blackness seems to surround the proceedings from the moment those three witches scamper out of their hidey-holes to decide when they shall meet again. It hangs so heavily above the action and at its edges that even when the stage is bathed in golden light, that oppressive darkness seems to weigh on it, ready to drop in an instant, smothering all that exists.
That's the world of this Macbeth, and for a play that's done as often as this one is, such an unsettling environment helps keep even veterans of numerous other productions a bit on edge and ill at ease, the way you are when you're walking down a dimly lit street, fearful of something popping out of the night at you. And making it still more unsettling is the fact that this is clearly taking place in our world, that this dimly lit street is in our neighborhood. No broadswords and armor for director David Long; he's placed the drama in a distinctly contemporary setting, with the lords and ladies fashionably attired in suits and cocktail dresses, clinking martini glasses as they toast the success of the Macbeths, who here might well be the friendly couple next door.
In playing the famously ambitious duo who murders its way to the top, neither Greg Holt nor Andrea Osborn project the sort of mythic persona on a collision course with fate or larger-than-life lust for power that drives some productions of the tragedy. Oh, these two desire success Osborn, in particular, makes that clear in Lady Macbeth's first speech but their ambition is scaled to human-size and of a kind we can recognize. There's something almost ordinary about it and about them as if they're a regular couple, just plain folks like us, who took a disastrously wrong turn somewhere down the line. That impression is bolstered by a recurring expression of surprise on the actors' faces, most often Holt's, his open, neighborly countenance periodically clouding with bewilderment over the circumstances in which he finds himself; it's a perplexity that recalls the figure in the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime," wondering, "How did I get here?" And there's a powerful moment when Holt's Macbeth puts off his queen to go away alone, and Osborn's Lady M, unprepared for such rejection, is stunned, her features frozen in puzzlement over how the unbreakable bond they shared could have been shattered.
As things spiral downward for the couple, the production gathers some momentum, and that sense of the ordinary about the Macbeths is displaced by the mayhem and madness common to all productions of the play. Most of it is staged with flair by Long, who makes dynamic use of the great steel catwalk that scenic designer Chase Staggs has suspended over the stage, and his actors whose delivery of Shakespeare's text is clear, if somewhat flat invest the story with more urgency. Nathan Osburn comes into his own as a brooding, tightly wound Macduff, coiled to strike back at his enemy. And in Lady M's mad scene, which takes place on the catwalk, Osborn reveals her character to be a woman unmoored, no longer connected to the man she loves and so lost between Earth and heaven.
So it goes when we lose our way in the night. Long's production reminds us that the darkness Shakespeare was writing about 400 years ago still surrounds us, and we're as prone as ever to make a disastrously wrong turn in it. "Light thickens; and the crow/Makes wing to the rooky wood," Macbeth says. "Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;/While night's black agents to their preys do rouse." We've been warned. Again.