Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Directed by Eric Hill.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent underít."
Keira Naughton and C. J. Wilson; photo: Jaime Donaldson
History may take its time happening, but in a Shakespeare tragedy directed by Eric Hill time is speeded up to an almost intense level and the English language as it was once spoken becomes a whirlwind of words forming instantly fading images that pile up somewhere off-stage-right in mountainous structures that will soon fade into memory. The biggest complaint heard from theater-goers who donít like Shakespeare is how long it takes to get the story seen and heard. Well, no fear with the Berkshire Theatre Festivalís current offering. The story is on, underway, and over before you even know it.
The energy generated and expended in just the first act, one hour and fifteen minutes long, could light up the town of Stockbridge for about thirty-seven hours. Words tumble out of mouths, hit the ground and bounce back up to be confronted by more words. Sometimes they make perfect sense and sometimes the senses are assaulted by the nonsense engendered in this form of delivery. Somehow by the end of the act it all makes sense again.
This is Eric Hillís style of direction. The Scottish Play (you donít say itís real name, folks; that is bad luck) tolerates it well. His players seem to know how to get out their phrases in comprehensible ways while tossing off those lines as though they were playing basketball in the corner court. In. Jump. Spin. Toss. Rebound. And so it goes.
Among the best of the players in this game of ĎShakespeare On the Sideí are some remarkable young men and women. Walter Hudson, for example, as Banquo, the title characterís best friend and hereditary enemy commands the stage in the rapid-fire game. Once murdered his cadaverous corpse becomes a symbol of all thatís wrong in the Denmark of Scotland. Make no mistake, there is something rotten here, besides the incidents in the plot. There is something very rotten and wrong in this production of a play that bears a long dire history of tragedies all its own.
Hillís direction is based on eastern philosophies of theater presentation and while that can be compelling - the three witches for example manage to work well in a heavily stylized form of delivery and Elizabeth Terry, Tommy Schrider and Equiano Mosieri are eerie and weird and mesmerizing in these roles - it can also keep an audience at a distance. This play should draw in its viewers, hold them fast and nearly torture them with anxieties. This production never quite does that, although it has its moments, most of them early on in the first act.
C. J. Wilson is an interesting but never compelling Macbeth, or Lord The Scottish Play. There is no grandeur in his playing, not that that is easy to achieve. Still there is no majesty either and no real commanding presence. He delivers his lines in a deliberate fashion and is generally understandable. He has a good look and a fine stance and in the final sequence, fighting shadows for his life and sanity, he clearly loses his grip on reality. Finely done, but never engaging.
As Lady The Scottish Play Keira Naughton delivers the lines but never the beauty, the bizarre, twisted beauty of the woman who utters them. Her sleepwalking scene in Act Two, one of the few places where the play slows down time to become a moment of reality, she is not sympathetic. She is as cold as a cucumber, as ritualized as a career nun nearing the end of her days. Itís too bad. Naughton should be able to do much better at this stage in her career.
Brandy Caldwell is a fine Lady Macduff, Ralph Petillo is a fine Duncan and an even better Doctor and Aaron Costa Ganis an excellent Malcolm. The ensemble players make the most of their moments and some of those moments are chilling.
The star of the show is definitely the set designed by Joseph Varga. An ugly marble cavern in a quarry it accepts the odd lights and projections thrown all over it by lighting designer Dan Kotlowitz. The instant changes in place and time of day are actually realized in this combination of set and lights. Olivera Gajicís nearly monotone costumes function well, but someone should have explained to her how awful an idea it was to put Keira Naughton into a tight-bodiced strapless red evening gown which made her shoulders too broad, her arms too sluggish and her body too squat. It is not the best look of the evening.
Itís a get in, get it on, get it over with, get out evening with Shakespeare. Two hours and seventeen minutes with the intermission and someoneís head is on a pike. Itís intriguing, indeed, and not a major investment on your part, so why not give it a try. You might, like me, find it fascinating but not arresting. You might find it more alluring or elusive. The Scottish Play is on the boards with a new style and a new sound and it is someoneís cup of tea. Yours, perhaps.
Walter Hudson as Banquo's Ghost; photo: Jaime Donaldson
Macbeth plays through August 14 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, located on Route 7 in Stockbridge, MA. For information and tickets contact the box office at 413-298-5576.