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Theater Review (NYC): Macbeth – Something Nervous This Way Comes

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There is some precedent for nudity in Macbeth. There was an all au natural Macbeth staged by the Washington Shakespeare Company a few years ago, and Roman Polanski made a particularly stripped down Macbeth, clothes-wise, not cinematically, in the early seventies. The Polanski film was a Playboy Production, so perhaps naked witches were to be expected. So there are models for the nudity in the Frog and Peach Theatre's current production of Macbeth, but I don't know if there is precedent for this Macbeth, a Macbeth that offers the "grown-up fun audiences have come to expect."

Grow-up fun, as the theatre company's playbill describes its production, is not something that automatically comes to mind with Macbeth. The play conjures up many dramatic actions and ideas — political intrigue, assassination and murder, battles, ghosts, witches and a lot of bloodletting — but grown-up fun is not one of them, unless that is a code phrase for various stages of undress.

Questionable disrobing is the least of the problems in this misguided production directed by Lynnea Benson. Starting with the all-important and central character, actor Moti Margolin (above right, Michael Chmiel as Lennox on left) works hard to bring a unique personality to the iconic Macbeth, but he loses the charismatic and essential brilliance of the successful military man from the very onset of the play. What exactly does Duncan see in this Macbeth to give him the Thane of Cawdor title, whetting Macbeth's appetite even further for power? The theatre company's show description has Macbeth as the "extraordinary warrior who's tough, witty and honorable." This is no way apparent. Here Macbeth is a victim for the whole evening —a victim of his wife's machinations, a victim to the witches' temptations, and a victim of just plain fate.

This Macbeth is a mass of tics and tremors and flippant asides to the audience. Monty Python may have described it better as a "nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more" Macbeth. Mistaking facetiousness for the frequent wit in Macbeth, this production does a grave disservice to the Scot who would be king. There is no journey of character here from honorable nobleman to paranoid despot. Macbeth starts out as an anxious idiot and ends up on a stick.

Lady Macbeth (Kaitlin Large above) fares a bit better. In one particularly successful scene, she earnestly demands that the spirits "unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty!" while she is beautifully dressed from top to toe in a fashionable little black dress and the highest of heels. Lady Macbeth's attractiveness which at once empowers her and limits her becomes vivid irony.

Ms. Large is a confident and attractive actor but miscast in her youth. The Lady Macbeth is a woman who has been around the loch a few times, perhaps on her second marriage, and the mother of unseen children (what ever did happen to that baby she nursed?). Her murderous ambitions stem from years of thwarted frustrations, not thwarted teenage dreams.

In the thick of relentless overacting, there were some outstanding performances, perhaps because they came a place of restraint. Michael Chmiel as Lennox and Louis Lourens as Banquo were quietly compelling in all the chaos; Mr. Lourens' turn as the deceased Banquo was especially effective, but then again, with no lines, the ghost of Banquo has to be understated.

The most captivating moment of the evening was the split second that Macbeth, with bowed head, waits for his sentence at the hands of Macduff (Todd Butera). There is a glimpse of bare throat and then the lights dim. We finally care about what will happen, but it comes at the very end, and it comes too late. "Let's briefly put on manly readiness," Macbeth declares when the murder of Duncan has been discovered, and he must put on the facade of innocence and be the agent of justice and revenge. It's not usually a punchline, but here the audience laughed. Rightfully so. The characters are roused from sleep by the crime; all the actors pose in their underwear, looking all the world like a Calvin Klein ad — In their briefs, to put a bad pun on a bad situation. Yes, please. Put something on. Hide those "naked frailties." 

Macbeth runs through May 9 at the The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (2nd floor).

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About Kate Shea Kennon