By Roz Friedman
“Life is but a walking shadow
A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…”
This is one of the most famous and revelatory speeches in all of William Shakespeare's plays. It is spoken by Macbeth at the end of his bloody journey from thane of Cawdor to King. Under Darko Tresnjak's distorted direction, that journey is obscured by lack of lighting (Matthew Richards) that is far too dark and a strange conception that throws Macbeth to the floor. Imagine!? Macbeth, portrayed by the hapless Matthew Rauch, writhing snakelike on the ground while speaking those wonderful lines!
Imagine!? Macbeth attacking and raping his Lady, when she was only trying to bloody help him get to the throne! And he loved her so much in the first act.
Furthermore, the sound (Jane Shaw) is so poor that many of the lines cannot be heard. Does the cast work hard? Yes. But why is it that David Manis, Duncan, King of Scotland, and Robert Eli, the heroic Macduff, are the only ones who speak clearly at all times. Kate Forbes as Lady Macbeth is sporadically understood.
To his credit, the director moves the characters on and off stage rapidly, keeping the action moving and flowing well; that is not a difficult job for the Scenic Design by Darko Tresjnak is almost non-existent. The costumes (Suttirat Anne Larlab) are just adequate.
I must say I am upset by this production, because I had brought a friend who had never seen Macbeth before, and there were many young students in attendance, who will think this is the way it should be. The last production I saw starred Antony Sher, a Macbeth of sheer power. It was part of the Arts & Ideas programming one summer at the Long Wharf Theatre.
Macbeth is albeit a complicated character. From the outset, he is enraged that he has been passed over and goes along with his wife's suggestion to kill the King. However, in order for this to be a tragedy, he has to have stature; he has led a huge battle and won. And although scenes were compressed, and much magic was erased, there are certain elements of the text that must remain. The trees! Where were the trees? Carrying out the prediction of the three witches that when Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hills, the soldiers march behind the trees, we get chills.
I therefore cannot recommend Macbeth at Hartford Stage.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO