By JK Clarke
It can be argued that Macbeth is Shakespeare’s best and most beloved play. It’s an assertion that would certainly spark vigorous debate, with an equal number who’d agree as disagree. Personally, I’d be in the “disagree” camp, but I can understand why so many feel so passionately. It certainly features some of the Bard’s most memorable characters (e.g. the Weird Sisters, Lady Macbeth) and quotations that have entered the vernacular (“double, double, toil and trouble”) so profoundly that many have no idea it’s Shakespeare they’re quoting. Importantly, it’s a play that stands on its own, and can be performed with scarcely any staging (or, some might argue) even any direction: the words alone convey its power. Which leads to why I found the small downtown company, First Maria’s, innovative production of Macbeth at Teatro Circulo in the East Village a bit of a letdown.
First Maria’s inaugural production, Hamlet, in 2016, aptly demonstrated the company’s derring-do and creativity, a trait that shined through in Macbeth. Directed by First Maria Artistic Director Celeste Moratti, who also plays a magnificent Lady Macbeth, this Macbeth focused on the occult, and an ambitious and wounded couple’s willingness to delve into the underworld.
The most compelling component of the production is Rafaella Toni’s costumes and set, particularly the components representing Macbeth’s (Tristan Colton) encounters with the Witches, who foretell his rise to power. Not typical haggard old sorcerers, they appear as tormented faces clothed in wide, winding bolts of stretchy, lycra fabric, often in a rictus of horror. The appearance of Hecate brings out terrifyingly cherubin, but blood red faces of babies. Had Moratti stopped there, perhaps this would’ve been a winning formula, creating a hellish phantasmagoria that would’ve haunted any audience for days to come. But the Witches’ speeches were delivered in a singsong chorus, accompanied by live percussion (expertly provided by Papaceccio and Francesco Santalucia), which almost totally drowned out those immortal and vital words, despite being in an intimate setting. The sound and song was far too disruptive for scenes which have never needed accompaniment.
Still, First Maria continues to demonstrate a knack for Shakespeare. Despite somewhat uneven acting across the ensemble, there were some notable performances, in addition to Moratti’s Lady Macbeth, who was just insane enough and just violent enough to put the scare into any spouse. Audrey Tchoukoua’s Banquo was particularly powerful, and would have been welcome in an even larger role. Nicholas Wilder as MacDuff stood out as a strong Shakespeare performer, whom I’d like to see in other roles. And Laura Montes, who played multiple roles, was startling as the MacDuff child, with a genuinely, and eerily, childlike voice and manner.
It’s been too long between First Maria productions. And while some elements of this production didn’t quite work, their willingness to take chances with Shakespeare is more than welcome. I’m eager to see what they do next.
Macbeth. Through December December 21, 2018 at Teatro Circulo, (64 East 4th Street, between Second Avenue and The Bowery). www.firstmaria.com
Photos: Jonathan Slaff