This may not be a popular theory, but I always felt that if Shakespeare were alive today and writing this Scottish play the plot might very well be the same . . . but the title would be Lady Macbeth and the emphasis would be completely different. For without the devious, devilish, deliciously deceitful Lady at his side Macbeth would be just another Hamlet, wandering about the castle wondering when his future was ever going to relieve him of his everlasting present.
Director Will Le Vasseur has done two things with Redd Tale Theatre Company’s Macbeth that I applaud him for. One, he’s “tightly edited” the original Shakespeare in ways that leave the story in tact while still getting the audience back on their feet before numbness sets in. However, the bigger triumph lies with point two. What Le Vasseur has done here – which I have yet to see done in other productions – is give this traditionally male-dominated Shakespearean Tale to the women. He’s managed to make a Feminist Macbeth. Now if I could only lobby to get him to change the title . . .
Whether this was intentional or unintentional is hard to say but hardly matters – it works. This choice can be seen right from the beginning when the three witches (Jodi Mara, Melissa Smith, and Merrie Jane Brackin) begin the play not as haggard old crones but as lovely witches (think original Eastwick – minus the bad perms). The status of the witches as an omnipresent supernatural constant is another choice of emphasis that I think is also quite unique in Le Vasseur’s production. Instead of the witches merely being auguries of the future they seem to be participants of the present as well – darting in and out to do what must be done to turn the plot just so. They are more like faeiries than witches in this way – like a darker version of their midsummer nights dream cousins – pushing and prodding the key players on the stage of their lives so as to make what needs to happen happen.
Of course, this is Macbeth, and it’s not as if Le Vasseur takes total liberties with the script – but he did go ahead and cast Duncan with Maria Silverman (who plays a number of other roles throughout the play as well, including Hecate and Lady Macduff) which was a bold and interesting choice. Silverman easily maneuvers through her many roles and brings fire and strength to her characters.
However, this production completely elevates to another level the moment Lady Macbeth (Virginia Bartholomew) arrives. There are actors who are completely comfortable with Shakespearean roles, able to recite the text with the appropriate amount of emotion and umbrage and for the most part, Macbeth‘s ensemble is filled with that type of actor. Then there are the actors who take the old Shakespearean text and transform it into something captivating – Ms. Bartholomew is that kind of actor. Bartholomew creates a Lady Macbeth who steals your breath and leaves you on the edge of your seat; though this story may be a familiar one and the lines as recognizable as childhood rhymes there is such an anticipation created around her scenes that it’s almost as if you’re not quite sure what may happen next. She is so fierce, so determined and so unbridled that it is impossible to imagine anything ever not turning out exactly as she wants. To see the desire and lust for power in her eyes is to see a woman waiting to be fully born, and frustrated that she can only fulfill her true destiny by constantly propping up her man.
The rest of the cast does a great job of putting the familiar cadence of Macbeth into the matrix of this new supernatural feminist thriller. James Stewart as Macbeth and Collin McConnell as Banquo have their lives turned upside down – transformed (then ruined) by the witches. Malcolm (Brad Lewandowski) and Donalbain (Michael Komala) are the sons who are acceptable heirs-apparent rather than superlative ones until their father’s death sends them on their own hero’s journey that ends them at the beginning of their story – after the ending of Macbeth’s.
And the rest … with many members of the cast playing double roles, there often seems to be many more in the cast than there actually are. Everyone is working together to tell the story of the warring factions of being pushed and pulled where the fates (or in this case the witches and human frailty) would pull them.
Throughout, the talent and expert of the people behind the scenes shine. Mike Yahn and Alec Barbour did a great job with fight choreography. Rebecca Smith -Millstein made the witches’ choreography – specifically when they interact with Lady Macbeth – weave a spell on us all. Will LeVasseur’s touch was apparent again in the great costumes (modern kilts, tank tops and coordinating sashes) and set design (especially the phosphorescent witches’ Mandela that was activated in black light).
Shakespeare’s Macbeth maybe one of the world’s great tragedies, but Le Vasseur’s Macbeth is a great success.
~~~Macbeth Written by William Shakespeare Edited and Directed by Will Le Vasseur Spoon Theatre 38 West 38th Street New York, NY 10018-0084 (646) 299-5345 RUNNING TIME 2 hours 1 Intermission TICKETS $12.00 – $15.00 212-868-4444