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A CurtainUp Review
The Bard's Famous Murdering Couple Open On Two Different Stages in One Week

Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing— Macbeth.

Just when you think Shakespeare’s Macbeth has vanished from New York stages, the Scottish play resurfaces again; in fact, with two productions opening in one week. The Aquila Theatre Company and the Epic Theatre Ensemble are now taking on the Thane as he goes the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire. Where the Aquila Theatre Company goes traditional, the Epic Theatre Ensemble reconstructs the play in a post-modern key. But both productions retain Shakespeare’s language and the essence of his richly tragic myth.

The Aquila's Macbeth at the Judson Gym
The good news about Aquila’s Macbeth is that it invents a spanking new scene, with Lady Macbeth giving birth as the play opens. It’s surely a nod to her famous line where she tells Macbeth that she has given “suck and know how tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me.” The renowned English scholar L. C. Knights once used this textual snippet as a basis for his wonderful 1933 essay “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” While this production brings this to vigorous life the bad news is that the rest of the production is bland. In spite of its talented leading actors, Guy Oliver-Watts and Rebecca Reaney, it fails to break any new dramatic ground. And why do another Macbeth if you don’t’ have something new to say?

The Gym at Judson is a tricky venue, but what worked better here than in a more conventional theater for Lysistrata Jones doesn't serve Macbeth's dramatic action. Desiree Sanchez, who wears the double hat of director and designer here, keeps the stage prop-free. Consequently, there’s no visual difference between the scenes on the blasted heath, the interiors of Inverness and Dunsinane Castle, or the Scottish and English countryside. Though Peter Meineck’s lighting hits the mark by cleanly outlining speakers during their major monologues and casting shadows during the play’s tragic moments, the overall effect is flat. The main problem is that Sanchez, with the exception of her opener, is more intent on verbal eloquence than reinterpreting this sublime tragedy.

Melissa Friedman as Lady Macbeth
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The Epic Theatre Ensemble's Macbeth The Epic Theatre Ensemble’s Macbeth is the more daring and better production of the two seen in one week. Directed by Ron Russell, and with Tony-award winner Richard Easton playing King Duncan via teleconferencing, this never over-reaches itself as it ingeniously blends in with our post-modern culture.

Curiously, Russell taps into the notion of Lady Macbeth’s “lost child” as well. Before the main action starts, you see a huge mural on the stage’s back wall, depicting the two Macbeths softly gazing at an infant.

The mural takes on dramatic immediacy when Lady Macbeth enters in Scene One, and mirrors the image by looking at a framed family photo on her desk. She then shatters this harmonious atmosphere by sitting down to watch a video loop with a montage of images: folks walking through a cemetery, military pundits giving speeches, and soldiers advancing through austere battle grounds.

This Macbeth has lots of hurly-burly, but it’s not manifested through the old clichés. The idea that the weird sisters must be females is boldly overturned. The bevy of hags is here comprised of two warlocks and one witch, all dressed in ordinary clothes. Instead of making cameo appearances in godforsaken places, they remain on stage throughout the evening. Their persistent presence is felt much like chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoe. Perching themselves atop three portable ladders on a dilapidated set (by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams), they indifferently watch the action, and occasionally comment on the goings-on. The epitome of fair and foul, the influence of these weird sisters is subtle but penetrating.

Russell also terrifically revamps the Act 3, Scene 4 banquet scene . Traditionally, Macbeth hosts a supper for his nobles and, during the dinner, hallucinates that Banquo is sitting in his seat. In this reconstructed scene, he hosts a dance, and as he joins his nobles on the dance floor, the murdered Banquo steps in and becomes his partner. A striking new take on this spooky scene —. and it works.

The acting is crisply executed, with Ty Jones’ Macbeth and Melissa Friedman’s Lady Macbeth rising to their crucial dramatic moments. But the star turn truly belongs to Richard Easton. Without setting a foot on stage, he delivers a convincing portrayal of Duncan a la Skype and “live” media broadcasts from Inverness Castle. The other actors all acquit themselves well. They never try to upstage the principals but nail down each plank of this tragedy with resounding conviction.

Of the two current productions, the Epic’s is clearly the better bet. And if you a question about the Scottish play, the company is also presenting a post-performance forum lead by scholars, authors, and theater professionals following each performance.

Aquila Theatre
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Desiree Sanchez
Cast: Guy Oliver-Watts (Macbeth), Rebecca Reaney (Lady Macbeth, Boy), Alexandre Milne (Witch 1), MaryWerntz (Witch 2), Janet Dunson (Witch 3, Servant), James Lavender (Duncan, Murderer 1, Macduff), Aaron McDaniel (Malcolm, Fleance), Peter F. Gardiner (Captain, Messenger, Banquo, Murderer 2), Rachael Barrington (Rosse, Lady Macduff).
Sets: Desiree Sanchez
Lighting: Peter Meineck
Fight Director: Turner Smith
Technical Director: Amy Carr
The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street. Tickets are $45. 212/ 868-4444
From 4/18/12; opening 4/25/12; closing 5/06/12.
Wednesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday @ 2pm.
Running time: 2 hours; 20 minutes including intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 4/20/12

Epic Theatre Ensemble's Macbeth
Directed by Ron Russell
Cast: Richard Easton (Duncan), Ty Jones (Macbeth), Melissa Friedman (Lady Macbeth), Devin E. Haqq (Ross), Rhett Henckel (Banquo), Aime Donna Kelly (Witch), Scott Kerns (Malcolm), Lori E. Parquet (Lady Macduff), Julian Rozzell, Jr. (Witch), Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. (Macduff), James Wallert (Witch)
Sets: Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams
Costumes: Alixandra Gage Englund
Lighting: Cat Tate Starrner
Sound: Ron Russell
The 47th Street Theatre, 304 W. 47th Street. Tickets are $35. (212) 279-4200
From 4/20/12; opening 4/29/12; closing 5/26/12.
Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays @ 8pm, with matinees on Saturdays @ 2pm. There is an additional performance on Thursday, May 24th @ 8pm.
Running time: 2 hours, including intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 4/26/12

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