“Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble”
(Chanted by three witches in Act V Scene 1)
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Artistic Director of Hartford Stage, Darko Tresnjak has lived up to his name by bringing us the darkest, most intense productions of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” we’ve seen. Just in time for Halloween, three witches (Kaliswa Brewster, Mahira Kakkar, and Kate Maccluggage) create the play’s persistent gloom and doom right from the beginning. But, beware of this nightmarish drama. It is certainly not for children and impressionable adults.
The three, grotesque hags crawl out from the foggy woods (we have to imagine there are trees) and almost trip over their sagging breasts as they summon the invisible earth spirits for guidance. They tap rocks, draw interesting mystical, patterns, and brew evil potions. The witches drop slimy, bloody, animal parts and their entrails into a steamy hole while foretelling this dreadful tale of ambitious kings, and power lost and gained through bloody greed. Several murders, including a beheading are also enacted in this production -- enough to make anyone shudder. So, it’s no wonder that casually uttering the name, “Macbeth” is avoided by superstitious actors to this day. Why tempt fate?
Matthew Rauch plays the self-serving Macbeth to the hilt. Overlooked for the battle rewards that are due him, the slighted officer sets out to seek his revenge. Macbeth is encouraged along his bloody path by an equally strong, and ambitious Lady Macbeth (Kate Forbes). The supporting actors are fine, however much of the dialog and action loses our attention due to the monotonous, dimly lit stage.
We have seen Macbeth performed in all time periods along with a variety of clashing costumes. Director Tresnjak (who also designed the set and advised Suttirat Larlarb on the costumes) should be congratulated for appropriately keeping to the century of early, Scottish kings that Shakespeare intended. However, we wished he followed through with the rest of the set which was sparse and required lots of imagination. Modern, lighted panels did not serve well here. We missed suggestions of a castle and the predicted, marching of “Birnam Woods.” It was also disappointing that some very important lines seemed to be rendered insignificantly on the darkened stage. They were in fact, almost missed. We wanted the main lesson of Macbeth, beginning with the lines “Out, out, brief candle “(Act V Scene 1)...to be very strongly emphasized – because, like our own lives today, this is certainly “...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
This review appears in “On NY&CT Theatre”/November, 2013