One of the three witches in New Phoenix Theatre on the Park's production of Macbeth forcefully and accidentally rammed into my leg as she squirmed and gesticulated at the feet of the audience while prophesying the splendor and doom of the would-be-king Macbeth. The witch, played by a male actor hunching like a manic cat, clucking like a bewitched hen, crouching so close to me I could have used her as a footstool, looked up at me and hissed after clobbering my shin with her full body weight. I managed a polite smile. Later when a sword was slammed to the ground after a valiant bit of swashbuckling, it did a sort of bounce on its handle and landed with a crash just inches from another audience member. These poor players were eager to convey the murderous rage of power-hungry Macbeth and I suppose we were fortunate enough to leave the theatre fairly uninjured.
The production's minimalist set design – a chair here, a lantern there – the spare costumes in goth black with red drape signifying royalty, and the intimate but small stage space demanded a strong verbal resonance from the actors which they delivered like the hushed secrecy of a candlelight storytelling. The stage was set, indeed emptied for something wicked coming as the players routinely and creatively performed this darkest drama with as much enthusiastic spirit as children playing from a costume trunk in a spooky attic.
The pervertedly devoted Macbeth and his Lady Macbeth (Brian Riggs and Kate LoConti), plotting to inherit the royal crown of Scotland through murderous deeds, played off one another brilliantly, displaying a hateful dance of rage and lust, confronting and comforting each other like caged injured animals while violently kissing and coiling their clamped embraced bodies together in what seemed less a display of heated emotion than of erotic asphyxiation. The acrobatic tumbling witches (watch out for that body slam) looked at times to be playing a wildly complex game of Twister and successfully created a goofy sort of mysticism meets yoga. The swordplay was exceptional and offered relief in the form of exciting choreographed movement when interrupting the increasingly intense tragedy.
Occasionally the players lost themselves in the deep anguish of their speeches, and words became whimpers, shrieks, and squeals. Macbeth particularly, with his back turned and far into the depths of his tormented psyche, was often indiscernible. Yet his broken physical stance spoke measures.
Seating on all four sides of the stage left a glaring red light directly in my sight path forcing me to cup my hand over my eyes to see the action on stage before it landed in my lap. A lighting design error maybe, but the suspense of the story heightened with the emergence of a player silhouetted against a blazing sunset. Hence, horrible shadow! The nine-member cast accommodated the 30-plus characters in the play with efficient and casual costume alteration: acquiring a limp, throwing on a hat, affixing a pair of glasses, sometimes in mid-scene, creating a bit of a Mad Hatter identity crisis. This too only added to the charm of this hands-on, grassroots, and devoted production.
Directed by Kelli Bocock-Natale, this fine dose of Shakespeare plays at the New Phoenix Theatre on the Park in Buffalo, New York on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8PM through April 10. Thursday night performances are pay-what-you-can.