A Macbeth: Fascinating Executions

Local Arts Reviews


A Macbeth: Fascinating Executions

The Hideout,

February 2

Done right, there is something utterly chilling about Shakespeare's Macbeth, with its incantations and spells, its darkness of spirit and atmosphere, and its cast of medieval witches, ghouls, and murderers. The State Theater Company School of Acting captured that chill in an evocative adaptation, A Macbeth, at the intimate Hideout on Congress Avenue.

From the opening moment, the mood was set in fine, minimalist fashion. The Gunn Brothers' sound score included dark minor chords recalling haunted Masses; dark figures described a thick, chalk circle in which King Duncan and his kin knelt and prayed in mumbled, eerie cant; three stone-like, throne-like chairs overlooked that circle and the entire cast of eight sat or stood around it quietly observing the evil doings therein. This simple but effective staging complemented director Guy Roberts' adaptation of the text, which was pared down to focus on scenes peopled by the three weird sisters or the Macbeths -- the murderous husband and wife, slaughtering their way to the top and killing all who might topple them once they ascended. In a key choice that paid off repeatedly, Roberts cast the three witches as servants to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The servants/witches' observation of the degeneration of their "masters" was disturbing in a frightening way, or, as when the three got together to parody the murder of King Duncan by the rather hapless Macbeth and his strung-out missus, a very funny one. Either way, there remained the sense that the Macbeths were not masters of their fates, no matter their improved status.

The project was billed as a work-in-progress, although the performances were mostly polished. If something was lacking, it may have been that while Shakespeare's words were spoken with some sophisticated diction and an ear for the poetry by the entire cast, not everyone seemed to understand what he or she was saying; a certain depth was lacking that probably would have been found with the added rehearsals of a full-scale production. As it was, Steve Shearer made a rather amiable, conscience-bothered murderer of his Macbeth. Babs George was wicked as Lady Macbeth, though had yet to explore the character in all her deep contradictions. Dirk van Allen's King Duncan was grandfatherly and warm, an antidote to the sinister, murderous world of medieval Scotland. As one of the witches, David Stahl stood out for his multi-character performance, channeling all sorts of nefarious spirits when not poking fun at his lord.

Roberts' cutting led to an accelerated finale, which must have led to moments of confusion for those unfamiliar with the text. As murderous Macbeth and his Machiavellian lady become more and more entangled in their attempts to cover their many misdeeds, Shakespeare's text entangles more and more characters that this adaptation had to omit, focused as it was on the deadly duo and the three witches. But as fast as the ending came, it was as fascinating in its execution as the opening, full of strong choices by a solid cast.

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