Macbeth

October 6, 2012

in Plays

Play (1606)
by William Shakespeare

Actors’ Shakespeare Project
Chevalier Theater
Medford, MA

October 3 – November 4, 2012

Directed by Paula Plum

Costume Designer: Anna-Alisa Belous, Lighting Designer: Karen Perlow, Sound Designer: Arshan Gailus, Composer: Dewey Dellay, Violence Designer: Ted Hewlett, Sceneic Designer: Jenna McFarland-Lord

With Allyn Burrows (Macbeth), Mara Sidmore (Lady Macbeth), Dana Block (1st Witch, Old Siward), Lydia Barnett-Milligan (2nd Witch, Donalbain, Macduff’s Daughter), Gabriel Graetz (3rd Witch, Angus, Fleance, Murderer, Messenger/Servant), Richard Snee (Duncan, Funeral Director, Porter, Seyton), Edmund Donovan (Malcolm, Murderer, Young Siward), Ross Macdonald (Ross), Janes Andreassi (Bloody Captain, Macduff), Sarah Newhouse (Banquo, Lady Macduff)

Hands

The darkest of dark Shakespearean tragedies lit up by an inventive production and a vivid embodiment of the play’s problematic king by ASP’s artistic director Allyn Burrows.

A little success in battle gains Macbeth an unforeseen honor, but that does not seem to be enough for his lady. Soon her ambition takes hold of him as well and they perform dastardly deeds to move upwards and onwards. Things do not turn out so well in the end. Given some vaguely misleading indications by his favorite three witches, Macbeth thinks he is unconquerable, but they have laced their warning with some trickery.

I saw another Actors’ Shakespeare Project production of Macbeth some years back. It was an all-female production staged in a hallway at Boston University. I remember it being not a terribly successful venture, atypical for the usually splendid ASP.

This Macbeth is an entirely different production and is extremely well done.

It is artfully trimmed, so the production runs a bit over two hours – quite succinct for Shakespearean tragedy. But one does not at all feel shortchanged – all the basic elements of the play are in place, and the whole is carried off with color and verve.

The danger of a long Macbeth is the labored ache that can be brought on by its unremitting darkness. But the artful abridgment here, combined with lively staging and expert acting, makes this a vivid and stimulating experience.

Allyn Burrows as Macbeth

Allyn Burrows as Macbeth.
Photo: Stratton McCrady
Courtesy of Actors’ Shakespeare Project

Most notably, and centrally: Allyn Burrows is just amazing in the title role. I have not always felt enthusiastic about his work, but here, without a doubt, he has completely hit his stride. He conveys Macbeth’s moral and psychological complexity with astuteness and subtlety. Though impassioned, this is a nuanced performance, with artfully conceived expressions and gestures at every turn. Burrows does a brilliant and entirely convincing job of showing Macbeth’s moral deterioration from an early hesitation to murder Duncan to an ingrained habit of sinister behavior.

Sarah Newhouse as Banquo, and as Lady Macduff, is great. She provides a heartfelt clarity to these roles, and delivers a lucid rendition of them. She has always been a most welcome presence in ASP productions, memorably as Cordelia in its great production of King Lear (starring Alvin Epstein), performed in 2005 in the same hallway at BU in which that earlier ASP production of Macbeth had been done.

It is an interesting twist, in this production, to make Banquo a woman, and Newhouse lives up to the role of the compassionate female companion to Macbeth exceedingly well. Kudos to the director, Paula Plum – in addition to her excellent work in general here – for conceiving this particular alteration. As a female compatriot of Macbeth, Banquo provides strong characterological alternative to Lady Macbeth, who stands at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. Having Newhouse also play Lady Macduff, the other vulnerable, then ghostly, presence, is an inspired choice as well.

Vultures

The conception of Lady Macbeth here is interesting and also well done. Played by Mara Sidmore, she is a sexy complement to Macbeth, a magnetic lure to his intimately entwined libido and ambition. Sidmore plays her with a slinky tempestuousness which makes the moral, as well as physical, seduction of Macbeth understandable.

In the mad scenes, however, I was not totally convinced by Sidmore’s approach. She worked hard to convey an impassioned insanity, but it seemed a little too energetically sought after to really hit home.

Particular moments in secondary roles came through very well. Richard Snee (who also plays Duncan), was hysterically funny as the Porter dawdling before answering urgent knockings at the door.

James Andreassi did a fine job as Macduff here. I was not as taken with his anguished portrayal of Antony in the ASP’s production of Antony and Cleopatra, but he gives a creditable performance here, conveying the requisite tragic nobility with clarity and forthrightness.

Set design was inventive, with a gauzy divider effectively separating a rear banquet room space from the main stage. Lighting was also very effectively conceived.
Costumes were interesting, especially in the case of the three witches whose designated garb was notably ecclesiastical.

But, particularly striking were the music and sound design, all extremely well done. Music was composed by Dewey Dellay, whose musical settings for My Name Is Asher Lev (2011) at the Lyric Stage were memorable.

This is another great outing for the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, and a particularly wonderful one for Allyn Burrows.

– BADMan

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