To Be Safely Thus — ‘Macbeth’ Review

Annika Boris as Lady Macbeth; Photo: The New York Times

Macduff, sword in hand, enters Macbeth’s chamber with a vengeance. He does, in fact, have to avenge the death of his entire family. Macbeth retaliates and a full-blown sword fight begins; suddenly, something unexpected happens. Macbeth, after a significant flourish, disarms Macduff and gains hold of his sword. It’s clear that Macbeth has the upper hand — Macduff has fallen on the floor while his rival holds both weapons. As you quickly try to recall your high school English class (that’s not supposed to happen!), Macbeth, showing his complete arrogance (and faith in the Weird Sisters’ prophecies), drops both swords, picks up Macduff with his hands, and spits in face, “I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born!”

Now, we all know what happens next; it is called the tragedy of Macbeth after all. Yet these moments are what make this production — moments that turn from ones you’re expecting to ones that are genuinely surprising and insightful. Oh, and did I mention that the tickets were only $10?

You can’t have a good production of any piece of theater, let alone Shakespeare, without having strong lead actors, and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (mostly) do not disappoint. Macbeth, played by John Douglas Thompson, a classically trained Shakespearean actor, starts off with such precise diction — enunciating every pulse in the iambic pentameter — that it actually becomes distracting. Once, he pronounced the letter ‘p’ at the end of a word so perfectly that he actually produced a popping sound, garnering giggles from the audience. Luckily, his true acting prowess is revealed through the transformation of Macbeth’s character, as noble soldier turns to pompous tyrant. He exudes such arrogance towards the end of the play, smacking papers out of servants’ hands and demanding visitors to kneel and kiss his ring.

Lady Macbeth, played by Annika Boris, has the opposite problem; she starts off as a wonderfully corrupt hostess, wisping up- and downstage with a long, flowing black dress (a lovely costume design choice by Anita Yavich that makes her look like an evil spirit) and then loses some of her raw zest when she finally goes mad. It seems like she is acting when she is doing her mad scene, while her earlier scenes don’t emit such a false quality. That isn’t to say what she did wasn’t good, but compared to her earlier scenes (which are wonderful), there is something that is left to be desired.

The only actor’s performance that specifically troubled me was Albert Jones’ interpretation of Macduff. He pronounced every line as this large oration, which was too dramatic for my tastes. It also didn’t help that he sounded and resembled a raspy, juiced up version of G.I. Joe. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled out some sort of machine gun and began shouting about some incoming Cobra Attack. Duke Nukem would also be a great comparison.

Theater for a New Audience, the theater company that produced this show, has a knack for incorporating creative, and at times shocking, elements into their productions. Their last production of The Merchant of Venice used three Macbooks in place of the three caskets and their characters frequently performed dialogues over cell phones. This is not the case with Macbeth, where you get an overall medieval feeling. Various types of battlements, swords and shields that would make Peter Jackson proud are incorporated into the production. Marcus Doshi, the lighting designer, utilizes mostly a black-white structure; you won’t see any colorful lighting in this production. He does a wonderful job illustrating the Weird Sisters’ apparitions of Banquo’s line of kings through lighting that comes up through the floor, which definitely adds a certain “wow” factor to that scene.

All in all, despite a few nit-picking details, the production is a wonderful artistic expression of a classic play. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth exhibit wonderful chemistry between each other, and throw you into the complex recedes of their minds. Flowery language aside, the ability to see Shakespeare performed for a price cheaper than a movie ticket nowadays is an opportunity that should not be passed up.

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