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A CurtainUp Review
Radio Macbeth

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.— Macbeth
The desire to give classic theater a modern twist is a strong one, and it's easy to understand why. Part of what makes a play great is its timelessness. Its ability to speak as well to our modern age as it did to the era in which it premiered often prompts irresistible urge to make that speech even more relatable to a modern audience. But it's also a dangerous temptation since a lot can get lost in translation when the update is mishandled.

I've had the unusually good fortune to see and compare two attempts to "modernize" Macbeth in the last month; but where Inertia Production's TheBcam/Macbeth stumbled in the attempt, SITI Company's Radio Macbeth navigates the dangerous waters with confidence and expertise. The result is a haunting and powerful work. I use "haunting" advisedly, because the ghosts which infuse Shakespeare's most supernatural drama are everywhere in evidence in Radio Macbeth.

Set in an abandoned theater, actors (and audience) jump at loud crashes from falling ladders, accidental piano chords and overly loud sound effects, and there is something relentlessly frightening about the emptiness represented in the huge stage of the Dance Theater Workshop (used to perfection in James Schuette's set design). It is an emptiness echoed in the lives of the seven 1930s era actors who come to the building to rehearse a radio performance of Macbeth. They murmur, chuckle and argue with each other as the rehearsal continues, but nothing is clearly audible to the audience outside of Shakespeare's script. Yet as the story continues, the obvious tensions and attractions between the actors are made obvious, and the resonances with character choices and dialogue are strong and appropriate.

For all the undeniable success of its technical execution the two forces driving this work to considerable heights are directors Darron L. West and Anne Bogart ( Bogart showing off the skills that have helped win her SITI company seven Obie awards early and often in this production). Striking the balance between the value of the old and the critically important resonance of the new is no easy task, yet West and Bogart expertly steer between respect for the spirit of the original and an understanding of what will reach a modern audience—even one looking back eight decades to a performance which is itself looking back thirty decades more. Movement, use of space and the show's tempo are all perfectly executed here, and the production's artistic ambition never exceeds its ability to deliver

West and Bogart are aided in their effort by a wonderfully skilled and disciplined cast. They turn in fine ensemble performances. Even the weaker performers, like Akiko Aizawa and (surprisingly) Stephen Duff Webber as Macbeth, are at least competent. The rest are utterly convincing in their dual roles as performers and characters. Will Bond and Kelly Maurer are good in all of their roles, and Ellen Lauren is particularly good as Lady Macbeth, her actor's persona providing a sympathetic overlay to the cruelly ambitious wife. When she exits the stage after Lady Macbeth's death, her expression as she looks at the other actors —particularly the two fighting for her affections—is both unexpected and powerfully resonant. But then, it's that unexpected resonance which gives the entire show its haunting power.

Radio Macbeth gets its authority from what isn't said, what isn't explicit. While barely departing an iota from the original text, it somehow conveys love, loss, conflict, forgiveness and despair in two eras while simultaneously engaging our own. This is, of course, a testament to the timelessness of Shakespeare's vision, but it's equally a compliment to the sharpness of West, Bogart and the SITI Company. Like the War of the Worlds restaging with which it shares a double bill during a portion of this run, Radio Macbeth is haunted by imagination so strong it threatens to become real. The fact that it is (in its own way) even more chilling than the famous story of alien invasion indicates how strong that imagination really is. See this while you can.

Radio Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Directors: Anne Bogart and Darron L. West
Cast: Akiko Aizawa (Angus, Fleance, Lennox, Sexton, Son, Young Siward), Will Bond (Duncan, MacDuff, Murderer, Doctor), Gian Murray Gianino (Ross, Messenger, Donalbain, Murderer, Siward), Ellen Lauren (Lady Macbeth), Kelly Maurer (Witch, Porter, Lady MacDuff, Gentlewoman), Barney O' Hanlon (Banquo, Malcolm, Murderer, Servant), Stephen Duff Webber (Macbeth)
Set and Costume Design: James Schuette
Lighting Designer: Brian H. Scott
Soundscape: Darron L. West
Running time: One hour, thirty-five minutes
SITI Company, Dance Theater Workshop, 219 West 19th Street, (212) 868-0860
From 10/5/10 to 10/16/10; opening 10/5/10
All performances at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $35, $25 for students
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on Oct. 7th performance
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