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A CurtainUp Review

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?—Macbeth
Scene from The Bcam/Macbeth
New York City productions of Macbeth have begun to ramp up as we head into the fall. Perhaps this mirrors some of our modern uncertainty and discontent; the quintessential tale of overweening ambition leading to monstrously evil acts seems to be well suited for our age, and in fact Inertia Productions' new version, TheBcam/MacBeth, is anxious to push the connection with its complex, mixed media approach. I think they reach their goal eventually. The real question is whether the journey to get there is worth the time it takes to travel.

TheBcam/Macbeth takes its title from the b-cam in film, which is assigned to shoot angles not visible via the main camera. Theoretically, this is intended to bring out aspects of the action not typically obvious, exploring the impact of the main story on its secondary and tertiary characters. There's a lot of logic to this approach: it preserves the fundamental core of the story while deepening the exploration of its effects.

Director Kevin Kittle is obviously committed to this method, and to both his credit and that of the generally excellent cast and crew its complexity never causes any obvious problems. The technical execution of the production, using a combination of rolling sheet-draped platforms, fixed and portable projectors, and a more typical light and sound system, is flawless. And the set (designed by Doug Durlacher) uses the large space available interestingly and compellingly, shifting through a variety of depths and perspectives.

The narrative structure is similarly ambitious. Essentially playwright Don Nigro combines a modern story of disturbed savagery with Shakespeare's original text. A tale of a troubled teenager with a penchant for torturing small animals is overlaid on the basically traditional version of Macbeth, and characters from one storyline walk into and through scenes in another (with no one from either story line being aware, apparently, of the other). This presents a host of intriguing possibilities. Robert James Walsh plays both Duncan's son Malcolm and the animal-torturing Billy, for example, while Danielle Liccardo covers both Lady Macbeth and Billy's straight-laced, 1950s-era mother. The resonances between and among these characters—familial ties giving way to adversarial hostility— are striking, and on occasion intensely powerful. The moment when one of Banquo's murderers (played by Eric Jennings) changes from a pair of ill-fitting jean shorts to a buttoned down shirt and dress pants, simultaneously shifting into the role of Macbeth's chief advisor Seton, is both clever and thought-provoking.

For the most part the actors are as competent as the technical crew, even more impressive given the relatively large cast and technical demands of the production. Besides the aforementioned Walsh, Liccardo and Jennings, Lawrence Ballard invests his Banquo with an effective combination of forthrightness and doubtful uncertainty over Macbeth's increasingly secretive behavior, and the rest of the cast is similarly professional, although Charlie Sandlan's Macbeth struck me as a little disengaged from the action around him.

Then again, it's partly that sense of disengagement which presents the biggest problem in this production. For all its undeniable competence and professionalism, the pacing of the show seems erratic, and for the first half of the play I found myself alternating between annoyance and mild boredom at the interplay of the two story lines. Had it ended at intermission I would have been tempted to write that rather than doing either a modern play or Shakespeare's work, Inertia Productions elected to "kind of" do both, thus not doing good service to either. But as the performance continued I began to change my mind, and towards the end, when Billy comes face to face with the consequences of his own past as Macbeth's main storyline heads relentlessly to its conclusion in a powerful juxtaposition, I was convinced . . .that is, until the production went on for another half hour, adding several bewildering scenes that seem to be completely disconnected from anything that went before. Even the curtain call suffers from this problem. The cast takes its usual bows, right before another slow-paced, odd scene that leads to an awkward ending that leaves the audience unsure whether to applaud, wait for more or just leave.

TheBcam/Macbeth is undeniably ambitious, highly professional, and occasionally powerful. It's also erratically paced and often frustrating. I wish Kittle, Nigro and the rest of the Inertia team had been willing to spend more time editing their work so as to spend more time in the former than the latter category, but there's no denying the provocative impact of what they've created. If you're interested in new interpretations of Shakespeare, and are willing to put up with the long and bumpy road in the process, you might find the ultimate destination was worth the ride.

Playwright: William Shakespeare (with additional material by Don Nigro and the Ensemble)
Director: Kevin Kittle
Cast: Lawrence Ballard , Doug Durlacher, Eric Jennings, Ean Miles Kessler, Danielle Liccardo, Theo Macabeo, Andrew Rosenberg, Michele Salter, Charlie Sandlan, Susan Schuld, Alexis Slade, Teale Sperling, Robert Walsh, Carrie Watt
Media Designers: Jared Mezzocchi, Theo Macabeo
Set Designer: Doug Durlacher
Lighting Designer: Liam Billingham
Sound Designer: Nicholas R. Nelson
Costume Consultants: Frank Chavez & Kim Matela
Running time: Two hours, twenty minutes including a fifteen minute intermission
Inertia Productions, Flamboyan Theater at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, 107 Suffolk Street, (800) 595-4849
From  9/8/10 to 9/26/10; opening 9/12/10
Wed.- Sat. @ 8:00 p.m., Sun. @ 2 p.m.
Tickets: $18
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on Sep. 16th performance
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