Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Directed by Elizabeth Swain.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"More is thy due than more than all can pay."
Mary Jane Hansen and Timothy D. Stickney as the Macbeths; photo: Joe Schuyler/Schuyler Photography
King Duncan, a decent man it would seem with two decent sons, declares that his distant cousin, Macbeth should be rewarded with much more than the King can personally offer. This is the result of valor in battle and a fierce loyalty to the crown. Having just been told that he is to be elevated to two major land-owning titles by a trio of dirty women who may be witches, Macbeth takes the Kingís statement to be proof of their other prediction as well, that he should be the monarch. With the violent urging of his lady-wife as the wind at his back he pursues the balance of this hitherto unsung dream and Macbeth murders Duncan, his best friend Banquo, several other nice folks and even sleep itself. Even if you donít know the story, you know whatís coming.
In Troy, for a while, you can see this story played out on stage at the Schacht Fine Arts Center at Russell Sage College in a new, fascinating production by the New York State Theatre Institute (NYSTI). NYSTIís excellent troupe of local, professional actors are joined by a few who are new to the area, under the intelligent and talented control of a director who understands that William Shakespeare was a playwright for the stage, and not for the page. With the aid of a superb team of technical theater folks, her designers, Elizabeth Swain has realized a vital, exciting and relevant production of this classic Scottish Play.
From among the NYSTI company several players are stand-outs. John Romeo, in several roles manages to find the differences among them and play those strengths and weaknesses. He is most memorable as a Porter, the man who opens the door in the morning to the soldiers who have come to awaken King Duncan. One of the classic comic scenes in the Shakespeare canon, Romeo brings a light touch to the lines and the physicality of this man that is just perfect as a follow-up to the night of dark actions that has preceded it. He is also fine as a Doctor in the second half, one who observes the strange behavior of the sleep-walking Lady Macbeth
As the Lady herself, Mary Jane Hansen delivers a fine performance. Not the erotic dame of some productions, this is clearly a vital and romantic woman who dreams large and cannot control those dreams. Her scene of persuasion, as she leads the conversation around to dire deeds was lovely. Her cover-up of her husbandís madness as he is pursued by ghosts was moving. Even the famous sleep-walking scene, a bear to pull off these days, was well performed. Itís a very good piece of work, a character well portrayed.
Anny DeGange and Carole Edie Smith make the first and second Weird sisters into fully rounded characters. Alexandra Tarantelli wasnít their equal. The fourth witch, and the playís only song, doesnít appear in this production which runs two hours and forty minutes with one intermission.
David Bunce is very memorable as Macduff, the man not born of woman, who finally corrects the accident of inheritance by killing Macbeth. Robin Chadwick is at his best, with three different roles, as an old man whose single scene was quite memorable. John McGuire made Banquo into a slightly foppish soldier whose loyalty is easily questioned.
Among the new personnel at NYSTI, Brian Nemiroff is excellent as Malcolm, Duncanís eldest son and heir. Emma Parsons, still in her first season here, made Lady Macduffís one scene into a thing of beauty. But first and foremost among them is Timothy D. Stickney in the title role.
Stickney has just the right touch for a contemporary audience. He handles the written words as though their language is his own, is our own. He never leaves a line or speech without clearly rendering it, making every word understandable. He never loses himself in the poetry, playing the prose instead. Handsome and strong, his Macbeth is a natural for the role of King, a role he never gets to play in Shakespeareís tale. Stickney has an elegance that belies the baser actions of the character. The crown never lies uneasy on his head, not even in his maddest moments. This actor understands the subtleties of madness, the degrees of it coming after battle, or after a good meal. If there is an unpretentious performance of Macbeth anywhere this season, it is on stage in Troy, New York and must be seen by any serious theater-goer.
Director Swain choreographs her large company without ever sacrificing individuality in the roles. Nowhere does her cast become stylized window-dressing, not even in the large battle scenes or assemblages. She has evolved her characters and we never ignore, nor forget, their differences. Shakespeare may have twisted facts to create his protagonist, but Swain keeps him on a straight path from success to tragedy. She gives us memorable stage pictures to take away: the three Weird sisters at their cauldron, the assassination of the Macduff clan, the banquet without Banquo, the final battle.
She is aided beautifully by the set and costumes of David Anton. He has created a modest replica of Stonehenge for his set, and given a confusion of time periods in his costumes. Not a traditional look, not a futuristic one, but a mix and match that turns the play into a visual realization of all time played at the same time. Lines that would seem archaic and arcane become analogous to our own time. Lighting Designer John McLain has given Swain and company the moods, the special effects, and the day and night shadows that help to create the theatrical realities of the play. Composer Will Severin has orchestrated the play with a few brilliant splashes of music and sound that are just right.
The real Macbeth ruled Scotland for seventeen years, but this production may well rule, in memory, even longer. Donít be shy of Shakespeare. I urge you to see this production. This one is a keeper.
Anny DeGange, Carole Edie Smith and Alexandra Tarantelli; photo: Joe Schuyler
Timothy D. Stickney as Macbeth; photo: Joe Schuyler
Macbeth, a NYSTI production, runs at the Schacht Fine Arts Center at Russell Sage College, 5 Division Street, in Troy, New York, through February 13. Tickets cost $10-$20 (a BARGAIN). For schedules, information and tickets call 518-274-3526 or go their website at www.nysti.org.