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by Elyse SommerIn case you're keeping track of on stage nudity, add Banquo's ghost and Lady Macbeth to your sightings. In Theatre for New Audiences' addition to the Macbeth oeuvre Banquo (Reg E. Cathey) bares everything but his throat which is encircled by a bloody Elizabethan ruff while that most ambitious of wives, Lady Macbeth (Elizabeth Marvel) drops to the floor during her sleepwalking scene and lets everything hang out of her nightgown. These latest examples of nudity seem more in the interest of being au courant than trenchant devices for character revelation. (Only the final scene in Wit warrants a totally apt rating. Nicole Kidman's fleeting nude scene was apt to The Blue Room, but too brief and over-hyped to be more than a distraction).
These attention grabbing stylistic quirks notwithstanding, director Ron Daniels, who last year gave us a fine "New Audiences" double header (Richard the II and Richard the III-- see Links), has given us a well-paced accessible Macbeth. With Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel as the power hungry Macbeths the bloody path to the Scottish throne and the inevitable ruin that follows their mission accomplished is delineated with emotional gusto and crystal clear diction. Marvel, tends to be too overwrought both in her most driven state and when destroyed by the aftermath of getting her heart's desire. Camp's approach to the Thane is more measured. Yet the pair generate enough sexual energy to make for a good team.
The elegantly spare staging by the two Richards' designers supports the psychological intensity and and fire and brimstone drama of it all. Constance Hoffman's vaguely Elizabethan and mostly white costumes give this Macbeth a deceptively tranquil look in stark contrast to all the spilled blood and the blazing red banquet robes of the newly enthroned royal couple. Ms. Marvel's strapless gowns make her resemble a weight lifter and her breasts are so relentlessly pushed upward that little pockets of flesh form atop the unflattering decolletage.
The action plays out on a circular platform with only a grate (for the weird sisters to hover over and also as a receptacle into which to sweep the blood that can never be swept away). This spareness serves as high relief for the Macbeths' ferocious greed. The banquet scene has no banquet table. When Lady Macbeth in a moment of absent-minded domesticity goes around picking up the glasses left on the floor, one is tempted to laugh even as the scene foreshadows her seemingly aimless sleepwalking. Good use is also made of a surrounding walkway with chairs and a wall with seamlessly built in doors for seamless entrances and exits by the sixteen actors playing twenty-three roles.
The American Place's intimate orchestra brings the stage close enough to the audience to give a sense of being right in the center of the action. This is further abetted by the use of the theater's two aisles, though the up and down the aisle entrances and exits are excessive and at times distracting. The timpanist at stage left and various other devices and mixed genre compositional elements (by Akin Atoms) underscore the flashes of lightning and rolling thunder.
True to previous New Audiences productions, and American Shakespeares in general, the actors run the gamut from competent to excellent. Reg E. Cathey does very well by Banquo, managing not to look silly even in the bloody ruff and buff scene. Stephen Pelinski and Starla Benford fall into the competent category as the foolproof sympathetic MacDuffs. Ms. Benford also doubles as one of the Weird Sisters. The trio is less weird than the group at last year's Public Theater Macbeth, though they often come off as inmates in a mental institution.
The production's most outstanding royal is Daniel J. Shore as Malcolm, the son of the murdered King of Scotland. The praises he previously garnered in R&J (an all-male, 4-character Romeo and Julio) apply once again. His line delivery is impeccably Shakespearean and his acting impressive.
And so, what we have here is a Macbeth that delivers on this company's mission of nurturing theater history without being a history making production. Its performances and ideas while not always successful, do give the play currency without sacrificing fidelity to the text.
You'll find links to all the Shakespeare productions (including a number of Macbeths) in our Shakespeare's Little Instruction Book
Reviews of other shows mentioned-- Wit and The Blue Room