.A Tale Told by an Impresario

Razzle-dazzling Macbeth to death.

For a play whose name actors make a big deal about not uttering
because it’s supposed to be bad luck, Macbeth has been
conspicuously popular around here of late. Mark Jackson’s staging for
Shotgun Players is the fourth local production in a few months,
following Killer Bee’s fascist-fetish production, the African-American
Shakespeare Company’s hip-hop MacB, and Woman’s Will’s all-witch
version. Macbeth hasn’t quite saturated the market like A
Midsummer Night’s Dream
this season, but on the Shakespeare front
it definitely seems like there’s something in the air that evokes a
frolic-or-stab impulse. Jackson’s take on the Scottish play is
particularly keen on the stabbing.

The show begins with a grinning bag-lady chattering to herself,
inaudible amid the din of war behind her, dragging the body of a man
behind her. She then drops to the ground with the soldier’s bloody body
splayed over her, a bloody slash down his chest and blood dripping down
his face to pool in his eye. He relates the glorious deeds of Macbeth
on the battlefield to the king and the lords and princes who pose
around him in natty suits like models in a menswear catalog, then
depart and return to strike exactly the same poses. It’s a striking
picture, but it’s hard to focus on anything he’s telling them because,
dude, he’s got blood in his eye!

This is a hyper-stylized Macbeth, though the surfeit of style
also alienates the audience from the action and often distracts from
the substance. That’s particularly an issue with Blythe Foster’s Lady
Macbeth. Entering with a go-go dance and cartwheel in a slinky green
dress, Foster tackles Lady Macbeth’s monologues with the gusto and
physicality of a cheerleader. This is a very young and sensual Lady M,
and she’s stronger when she’s focusing her feminine wiles on her
husband to prod him to murder the king than in her super-theatrical
soliloquies, delivered directly to the audience as if they were a
clever trick she’d like to show us rather than anything she wants to
say. This quality makes her magnetic to watch but difficult to buy as a
character with any kind of interior life.

The various thanes and princes come off as smarmy corporate types,
like the ad execs on Mad Men, from John Mercer’s exaggerated
bluster as a buffoonish Duncan to Ryan Tasker’s shifty glower as
Duncan’s son and rightful heir Malcolm. Daniel Bruno breezes through as
a briskly businesslike but sympathetic Ross with an omnipresent
briefcase.

Craig Marker’s Macbeth is basically a lunk who’s out of his depth in
his own murderous rise to power. Marker’s delivery of the speeches is
passable, but what really makes him work in the role is his body
language. His unease and paranoia is manifest in the way his hands are
always working with nervous energy, and his cocky bravado later on is
priceless. Daniel Duque-Estrada makes a strong Banquo in his ease with
Cassady Bogatin as son Fleance, his awkwardness with Macbeth, and
especially in his bloodied and leering stroll through Macbeth’s
cocktail party.

Zehra Berkman shines as the witch (down from the usual three), here
a crazed street person who talks to herself, and as a pregnant and
doomed Lady Macduff who despairs of her husband. Reid Davis’ drunken
porter is unusually entertaining in the usually painful comic
monologue. Kevin Clarke as a stony-faced hitman who could have stepped
out of a gangster movie, but Peter Ruocco is stiff and badly miscast as
the avenging Macduff.

It’s a sleekly modern Macbeth, with frequent changes of slick
formal wear devised by Valera Coble and designer Nina Ball’s stark
black and gray stage with a glittery gold fringe curtain. The fights
are sharply choreographed by Dave Maier, and Sarah Huddleston’s sound
and Jon Tracy’s lights get a workout between thunder and lightning and
thumping disco. The lights frequently go down with a thunk for
Macbeth’s reveries about his bloody rise to power, a spotlight tight on
his face and the kind of throbbing hum that you hear inside of a
spaceship in a sci-fi movie.

There are some marvelously inventive moments in the staging,
especially the riveting reimagining of Macbeth’s return to the weird
sisters for some follow-up fortunetelling. In this version the witch
interrupts the Macbeths in a moment of passion and then force-feeds
Lady Macbeth various pocket potions that possess her with demonic
voices.

As compelling as such moments are, they don’t add up to a coherent
tragedy. Jackson seems more focused on creating tableaux than with
telling a story, and it becomes like a slasher movie in the sense that
it’s hard to take anything that’s going on seriously, no matter how
gruesome.

“It will have blood,” Macbeth says in one of his freakouts, “they
say, blood will have blood.” But for all the copious gore and
occasional hanky-panky, the passions in Jackson’s production feel
curiously bloodless.

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