Monday, December 08, 2014

Theater Review - Macbeth

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Leslie Riedel
Where:  Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Sunday, December 7, 2pm

Design Credit: REP

The University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players have previously brought us two great Shakespearean productions in their short tenure -- the fantastical A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2010 that took us to an Elizabethan Neverland and the breathless and sumptuously designed 2012 Hamlet.  Both breathed life into the Bard's words in ways I never expected and I waited with bated breath for 2014's production of Macbeth upon hearing it would be part of the season, continuing on with the REP's apparent tradition of treating us to one of Shakespeare's works every other year.

Unfortunately, this Macbeth falls quite flat.  Director Leslie Riedel's production feels inert, lacking any type of momentum with a title character (played by REP member Lee Ernst) whose purportedly rousing speeches lack the passion and drive needed to have the audience either care about the character's plight or wish for his downfall -- depending on which side of the fence you fall on regarding Macbeth's treachery.  Ernst comes alive as Macbeth in the play's final scenes, but in the nearly 100 minutes leading up to those moments, his lulling and almost lyrical intonations didn't register with this audience member.
Photo Credit: Paul Cerro

Faring better is Elizabeth Heflin as Lady Macbeth whose deviously ambitious mind sets the play's plot moving as she infiltrates her husband's psyche to convince him to murder the king in order to rule Scotland himself.  I only wish her late-in-the-play neuroses were given a little more depth.  Admittedly, it's been probably over a decade since I've had any exposure of any kind to Macbeth.  Perhaps Shakespeare didn't provide any other exposition for Lady Macbeth's character and her spiral to insanity isn't described in detail.  That said, if there is any further explanation, the decision to leave out that seemingly important character trait is surprising.

Presumably, Riedel excised some portions of the play and while this Macbeth (which ran close to two hours with no intermission) moves from scene to scene at a rapid pace, I found it disappointingly empty in terms of connecting with the characters' emotional states.  During an interesting pre-show talkback with Riedel (which proved more fruitful than the play itself), the director noted that he wanted the audience to walk away with the following thought:  "What happens when the good guy does the worst thing?"  Unfortunately, this intriguing question which should make us really ponder the intentions of the play's titular character isn't really broached at all.  We don't feel anything good or bad for Macbeth or his Lady or any of the people they harm.  This production unfortunately doesn't engage its audience in any way.

The REP is always solid when it comes to production values and while the set design by C. David Russell is intriguingly simplistic and modern, the costumes by Martha Hally felt like the weird birth child sired by the leftovers of REP's last production Angels in America and some glitter factory explosion.  (It should be noted, however, the use of puppets to portray the three "prophetic" witches was a nice touch that added a creepy vibe which helped those moments in the play.)  The odd musical score by Charles Gilbert seemed as if it was culled from a Twilight Zone episode and rooted the play in the past rather than making it relevant to a modern audience.

It's unfortunate that the REP couldn't make it three-for-three when it came to their Shakespeare productions, but the high expectations that came attached to Macbeth thanks to the company's previous Bard presentations did not work in this one's favor.  Perhaps Macbeth simply isn't as good of a play as Hamlet or A Midsummer Night's Dream -- I do think there's some truth to that aspect.  However, this production didn't breathe life into the Bard's words at all.

Note:  Macbeth has closed after completing its run.

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