"Macbeth"

By David A. Rosenberg

All is well. A battle is won. Traitors are killed, heroes rewarded. Then . . . as light fades, darkness creeps around corners with the three weird sisters who, delighting in setting spells, bide their time until they have their ambitious prey where they want him.

 

This is “Macbeth” in an Elm Shakespeare production -- and a better setting could not be found than New Haven’s Edgerton Park on a moonless night that gets both literally and figuratively spookier. The tale of murder, betrayal and deception is the Bard’s shortest, most concentrated work, taking a mere two intermission-less hours to tell its horrific tale.

 

If the production is far from memorable, if the performances range from rigorous to inadequate, know that the evening moves swiftly and inexorably. The trajectory of a noble man who, egged on by his wife to commit regicide, usurps the throne to become a king, who falls from grace into tyranny, is being given a respectable outing.

 

This is the 17th year for the Elm group, which has done superb recent work with the likes of “The Winter’s Tale” and “Measure for Measure.” They’ve even gone non-Shakespearean with an excellent production of Philip Barry’s comedy, “Holiday.”

 

While this production has admirable aspects, it makes numerous missteps. Director Allyn Burrows handles the battle scenes forcefully but is less dexterous in more intimate ones. For instance, instead of the daggers that Macbeth thinks he sees before him, we get actual knives, removed not by the witches, which might be effective, but by the household staff as if they were gathering up misplaced silverware.

 

Too, the banquet scene has the murdered Banquo wandering aimlessly about instead of becoming a figure of terror. The witches, looking more like runway models than fiendish hags, are about as frightening as one’s pet goldfish This cuts into the theme of a Macbeth in thrall to his imagination, a man whose equivocation both ennobles and enfeebles him.

 

James Andreassi is a strong, bear-like Macbeth, stalking the stage and raging against his fate, while Marianna Bassham is suppressed fury as his Lady. There’s not much sexual tension between them, unfortunately, but there is rapport. The great Alvin Epstein is a pleasure to behold as both the Porter and the Doctor, while Mark Zeisler’s Banquo and Sarah Grace-Wilson’s Lady Macduff are also admirable, as is Tracy Griswold’s well-spoken Duncan.

 

Joshua Wills is a stalwart Malcolm, Aaron Moss a sympathetic Ross. But Colin Lane must be listening to his own drummer as Macduff. His line readings are off the charts and his movements are stiff.

 

Elizabeth Bolster’s setting of rocks and runes and her Scottish costumes, along with Jamie Burnett’s lighting, establish the proper creepy mood. Nathan Roberts’ original music and sounds excitingly suggest those terrifying noises we might hear at 3 a.m. They perfectly complement a work about blood, death, guilt and torment in a headlong production perfectly suited to its environment.

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