A fuzzy-headed, but earnest staging of a Shakespeare classic
By Joel Benjamin
Why go to the trouble of staging yet another Macbeth? A starry cast? A totally new interpretation? Or, perhaps, a director who’s just itching to get her hands on this text to improve her theater creds?
The Frog & Peach Theatre Company’s Macbeth, directed by Lynnea Benson, does not have a star caliber cast and the interpretation is a bit fuzzy-headed and not wildly original. Ms. Benson keeps her energetic, dedicated actors darting from contemporary times (for instance, using a modern camera) to medieval duels with large clanking swords. Similarly, she plays annoyingly loud rock music as the audience enters, switching arbitrarily to excerpts from Bizet’s “Symphony in C” and other classical excerpts at the oddest moments. The effect is head-scratchingly confusing.
Her lead couple, Erick Gonzalez (a young Tony Shalhoub look-alike) as Macbeth and the lovely Kate T. Billingsley, as an ardent but opaque Lady Macbeth, don’t communicate what drives them to step over so many bodies—mostly of friends—en route to obtaining the historically temporary position of King. Some Mister and Missus Macbeths are consumed with passion, but these two barely touched one another. Their eyes don’t glisten at the idea of power or wealth. They just seem to be slightly overwrought and weak when they should be like mirrors reflecting infinitely into each other, so hard-hearted and determined that you have to look away from these dreadful sociopaths. There has to be a reason an audience will sit and watch a play that is so familiar and overdone and Mr. Gonzalez and Ms. Billingsley never rise above the level of a pretty couple bickering.
On the other hand, Ms. Benson’s Three Witches are marvelously intense creatures, homeless, filthy and psychologically astute as they use superstition and flattery to make their points to Macbeth and other characters in the play. Vivien Landau, Alyssa Diamond and Bess Miller are believably old friends who combine witchcraft, sorcery and superstition with folksy dances. They are both humorous and frightening.
Rick Roemer used his generous vocal equipment to give life to Macduff, his anger at Macbeth ringing true. As Macbeth’s onetime friend and murder victim, Banquo, John Ramaine, was particularly effective as an intensely quiet ghost, clearly an apparition of Macbeth’s guilty mind. As the only overtly comical figure, Kevin Hauver’s petulant Porter registered as a bit heavy handed, but his speech was clear and resonant. Duncan, the Macbeths’ first victim on their rise up the ranks, was played by John L. Payne who communicated an offhanded royalty.
The rest of the cast spoke their lines unevenly, not trusting in the demands of Shakespearean language. They weren’t helped by Ms. Benson’s constant breaking of the fourth wall for soliloquies which none of the actors handled skillfully.
Asa Benally’s costumes were stylistically ragged, straddling modern and period looks. The Macbeths’ costumes did get more glamorous as the play progressed, but Ms. Benally might have rethought leaving some of the characters in their sloppy battle gear while at the royal banquet.
Jean Kim’s set, a translucent curtain at the back of the stage and pieces of furniture brought on as needed, suggested time and place. The entire black box space, including balcony catwalks and the stairs dividing the audience were heavily used.
Violence Coordinator—a title new to me—Marcus Watson, choreographed the sword fights as convincingly as possible in such a small space. Although Steve Boockvor was credited with choreography, there was little evidence of it except for a puny circle dance for the three weird sisters/witches.
This Frog and Peach production would probably prove a decent introduction to this masterful drama, but not a particularly exciting interpretation. Energy and dedication aren’t enough. Macbeth demands over-the-top emotions and a sense of inevitability which this Macbeth never quite achieved.
Macbeth (through February 12, 2017)
The Sheen Center/Black Box Theatre
18 Bleecker Street, between Elizabeth Street and Mott Street
New York, NY
For tickets, call 212-925-2812 or visit www.SheenCenter.org
Running time: two hours, including one intermission