The great Shakespearean dramas remain among the most complex and intrinsically interconnected plays yet crafted. As such, they are difficult to adapt or re-interpret. So when Buddy Butler, who directs Shadow Theatre Company's current production of the Macbeth, says that this production will "finally escape the theatrical curse on 'the Scottish play,'" by "daring to address and depict ... [its] ... theological, political, supernatural, and the sensual passion," this is no small boast. Unfortunately, it's one on which the production fails to deliver.
The first odd choice is the insertion of Hecate, queen of the witches, as the first character in the play, and thereafter, at intervals as a mirror for the action. These gratuitous appearances not only completely deflate her righteous anger at what should be her first appearance the beginning of Act III, Scene IV, when she blasts the three witches for sharing the "riddles and affairs of death" with Macbeth, but also detract from the great metaphysical questions that result from Hecate's argument: "Would Macbeth have become King of Scotland in a legitimate manner if the witches had not
'jump[ed] the life to come' by confiding the prophesies to him?" And, in a larger sense, "What is the dialectic between free will and determinism?"
Second, the choice of showing Lady Macbeth's influence over Macbeth as primarily of a sexual nature dilutes Macbeth's own ambitions, thus weakening his "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly" speech (which, in turn, is further marginalized by its blocking). Third, and worse yet, the sexual conceit is abandoned after one clinch and a few gestures, with the portrayal of Lady Macbeth (Jada Roberts) in the early going then vascillating between focus and indecisiveness, thus sapping the potential contrast between her initial ascendency and her eventual demise of much of its life.
|Jeffrey Nickelson as|
Macbeth and Jada
Roberts as Lady Macbeth
Fourth, while Macduff's eventual slaying of Macbeth is meant to offer redemption for the horrendous slaughter that has preceded it, Michael Duran's early characterization of Macduff does not provide us with enough basis for believing that he is strong enough and noble enough to snuff the powerful Macbeth: His agony over the murder of his wife and children, and the anger that follows from this, is not enough.
At the center of this bloody maelstrom is Macbeth, a role in which Jeffrey Nickelson has the gravity, talent, and voice to be great. Indeed, he finishes strong, but his motivations are compromised during much of the early going by the aforementioned directorial choices, robbing the overall tragedy of much of its potential import.
Another disappointment in the production is the elocution, which, except for a few principals, is generally weak, and drains the playwright's language of its rich tone and imagery. At times, even Macbeth's speech is drowned out by the amplification of the witches' ravings, who, by this time, have become a common distraction.
Finally, the staging in the cavernous hall adds to the separation of players and audience, with little action taking place on the front half of the stage. On other occasions, events are juxtaposed that distract from the dynamics of the story. For example, the murder of Duncan takes place in a dark corner of the stage while lesser characters siphon our attention, or the ghost of Banquo appears with his child at the banquet at the same time Macbeth lays Lady Macbeth on the table, or an African dance appears in the middle of a Scottish setting.
Given the amount of hard work required to produce this play, it's a shame that director Buddy Butler felt the need to take such random liberties with the time-tested and well-crafted dramatic structure. Shadow Theatre Company's production of Macbeth runs through November 1st. 303-837-9355.