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William Shakespeare's " MacBeth "


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Over the years I've seen a lot of " MacBeth's " - post-apocalyptic, modern-dress, Victorian, medievil. Someday I suppose I'll expect to see Shakespeare's darkest tragedy set on a Martian ice cap. But I've never witnessed a more visceral vision than director Paul Mullins bloody and action-packed-production, the best of a strong trio ( it's right there in rep with " The Comedy Of Errors " and the " Winters Tale " ) at the Old Globe's Summer Shakespeare Festival in San Diego.


When the three witches appear at the beginning, Shakespeare's scenic instructions are simply " a desert place." Presumably they're close to a battleground in which Macbeth has just won glory for his ill-fated master, Duncan the king of Scotland.


In Mullins staging, the scheming sisters appear within the battle. A pitched skirmish is frozen: the witches enter, decked out in bright crimson from head to toe, amid the bloody pikes and gore-covered swords; after their last line and this a lovely line for decedance " Hover Through the Fog and filthy air " , given new revelance in this set ) the fighting resumes.


In fact it's a lurid approach, and sometimes Mullins pushes the envelope too far ( the murder of Macduff's family, including a swaddled infant, is particularily gruesome ). However given the current state of geopolitics, a sobering depiction of the horror of war seems perfectly attuned to the times.


Some Shakespearean scholars have criticized " MacBeth " for the lack of detail and depth in it's supporting characters, and a successful representation of this play, more than his other tragedies, hinges on the lead role. In this regard, Mullins production is firmly anchored. The delightful Mr Tom Hammond gives the audience a MacBeth who seems suprised by his sudden turn towards malice, power-grabbing and subterfuge. After he murders Duncan, Hammond's body language-halting steps, blank expression, quiet gestures - suggests a man who is shocked by his own evil. In other words, Hammond's unsurping king behaves as if he's been betrayed by his own body.


The talented Miss Deidre Lovejoy faces a more difficult task with Lady Macbeth, whose guilt surfaces only when she's not conscious ( the "out dam spot" speech takes place in the middle of a sleep-walking episode ). Sometimes Miss Lovejoy pushes her character's zeal too close o the scenery-chewing realm, but she's bloody utterly convincing. She leaves no doubt that Lady M is the malevolent power behind the throne. Lovejoy's finery red hair is the perfect embodiment of the young queen's hellish zeal.


The other impressive performance is this production is Michael A. Newcomer's Macduff. He's a man consumed by grief over his murdered family, and Newcomer deftly demonstrates how that translates into a vengful rage that almost overwhelmes him in his final battle with Macbeth.


Ralph Funicello's bare bones set, which must do triple duty with few altercations for the three play festival, is most effective for Macbeth. Dominated by huge grated gates and stark balconies, it's a gray and lifeless space. A turntable is employed for some spectacularly spooky effects.



Costume designer Linda Cho has devised simple but mesmerizing way to depict Macbeth's vision of Duncan's family line reigning through many generations. A parade of kings appear, each succeeding monarch portrayed by more sketchily than the last, until the audience is left with a simple banner topped by a crown and covered with mirrors, in which the horrified Macbeth sees the Duncan bloodline stretching into infinity.


Mullins staging isn't perfect. His crowd scenes can seem awkward, and perhaps stagey, and there's too much trouncing up and down the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre's shallow stairways. Sometimes he crosses the line between hyper-theatricality and ham.


To be fair, he also knows when to pull back, and it's the quiet scenes tha may stick in your mind. When the ghost of Macbeth's son appears high above the stage on a balcony, he looks like a bloodstained angel. It's a powerful image tha captures the incalculable cost of war more than any body-strewn battlefield or blasted cityscape.


I deeply apologise for the length of this writing , forgive me for I have a tremendous passion for Shakespeare and sometimes I feel I dont see enough of his plays anymore. I've seen so many shows over the years, be it in Vegas, New York and the West End. For the most part some fantastic productions to bring a smile to my face and always feeling that I got my money's worth. However I've always felt one drawback, I never felt I was never intellectually being challenged, except when I'm observing something written by Shakespeare, Dickens, Keats, Wordsworth. These writers in their day didn't just bring a smile to a face, they curtailed the logic and challenged the mind to think.


Unfortunatley it's doesn't happen in this time and age, most productions these days leave the audience to talk about the visuals and less on the individual performances. I'm very fortunate in someways, I was old enough to grow up in England within a time frame watching varous interpretations of William Shakespeares plays performed by character actors like Derek Jacobi, Ian Mackellen, Tom Baker, Judi Dench, Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Stewart, Thora Hird, the lovely Beatrix Leahman. All these performers as well as most British theatre actors will say that doing a Shakespeare play brings out the best in a performance. Dont get me wrong, I love productions like " Dirty Rotten Scoundrels " or even " Zumanity " for that matter. But I have much more stronger preference for " Macbeth because I'm intellectually stimulated to think and thus I'm being challenged along these lines. I suppose it's fair to say that I'm part of a dying breed these days



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RE: William Shakespeare's " MacBeth "


I wish I were in San Diego, and could see the the production you just wrote about. It sounds fantastic... I have yet to see a performance of MacBeth. I'm not one to seek out Shakespeare... usually he finds me, and always challenges and entertains... last month I saw a filmed version of Merchant of Venice featuring Al Pacino (or Robert de Niro, I always get those two confused) and (Ralph) Fiennes... and some other famous people. Anyway, it was pretty moving. I also rented a dvd of Titus Andronicus, a weird tale featuring Glenn Close and Hannibal Lecter, which was utterly absorbing, and very disturbing. The way sex should be!

The very first play I ever saw was a college production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream, and in my recollection, those mid-70's college kids did a damned good job! I was all of thirteen, but once I got over the language, I was hooked. I'm no connosieur (sp?) of Willie the Shake (JM), but I know a good story when I see one, and Shakespeare put to life some tales that will most certainly be played on the red stage of Mars!



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