Tina Taylor is on to something. Small space, bare-bones production, the finest of actors, and superb storytelling that captures the heart of the human experience. Theater Lunatico’s new production of Macbeth may be the finest example of this compelling combination.
I know the play well enough to have formed my own vision of who the lead characters should be: how they should look, what they might wear, the shapes of their faces, the depths of their gaze, the way they move about the stage. This production is a perfect rendition of that vision, but better.
Macbeth (Michael Barr) has the look and heart of an honest, almost humble man, fierce to his enemies in war, loyal to his king, enamored of his sultry wife (Melanie Bandera-Hess). Perhaps too enamored. The tragedy here is the corruption of this marriage. From the beginning they have a sickly need of each other that only grows in its perversity. What he lacks in his own ambition she provides, and works her seductive way to undermine that honesty and pervert that loyalty into deeds of murder that could never have come from the man alone. She is the one who sees what he is too obtuse to get. The salutations of the three witches are a prophecy that will only come to fruition if he—if they—will pursue it. The murder of their king.
Mabeth’s sense of honor and loyalty will not allow it. At first. But she will have her way. By seductive entreaty, by demeaning his manhood—“art thou afeard?”—and then goading him. “Screw your courage to the sticking-place.” Indeed he does. And so begins their intertwined descent into depths of horror played out before you, an inescapable reality on the floor of the very room in which you sit.
It is a tribute to the talent of the director and the two lead actors that the evolution of their characters from one extreme to another can happen so seamlessly in such a short time frame. The valiant hero returns from victory on the field crowned with honors, to the arms of his adoring wife. In the space of two hours they have turned upon each other and themselves, forsaken every human virtue, and, wracked by guilt, brought about their own untimely ends.
There are scenes of visceral intensity too numerous to recall them all: the passionate embrace of the valiant warrior returning to his wife, the haunted banquet, Lady Macbeth’s final nightmare, Malcolm (Pablo Hamlin) stirring Macduff (Scott Ragle) to action, Macduff’s final tragedy and revenge. . . .
Taylor makes good and unique use of her minimalist resources. Some actors appear in multiple roles. The royalty’s handmaidens double as prop-shifters. The simple props—wooden boxes doubling as chairs or vanities, pewter cups and vessels, a handful of knives—suggest scenes to be filled by action and word. The costuming speaks of World War One, with stretchers and wounded soldiers a frequent reminder of a world at war, in which the red of blood is a frequent color, The ensemble’s voices, humming and heavy breathing, the heavy tread of boots on the ground all convey the ghastly import of what has, or is about to happen.
All this and Shakespeare’s haunting, memorable words: “the milk of human kindness;” “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow;” “. . .sound and fury, signifying nothing,” brought to us in a setting so intimately close that we cannot help but see something uncomfortably familiar here.
I cannot speak highly enough of this production. It won’t be here long. The company will be moving to a permanent home in Berkeley (congratulations!) in the fall of 2017
Performed at West Coast Arts Foundation
1554 4th St, San Rafael
April 14: Pay-what-you-can Preview at 8PM
April 15, 21, 22, 28, 29, May 12, 13*, 19, 20 at 8PM
April 16, 23, 30*, May 14, 21 at 7PM
*Indicates post-show talk back with director and members of the cast
Box Office: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2888666
Review by David Hirzel