“Theatre Review: ‘Macbeth’ at The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre”
By Lisa Ford
April 10, 2016
(Photos by Kendall Whitehouse)
Shakespeare’s Macbeth, directed by Carmen Khan, is a dark meditation about ambition, tyranny, revenge, murder, and the consequential inescapable nightmarish guilt created from crimes of blood. Set in the time the play was written, the director, cast, and production, brings Macbeth’s bloodstained presence that cannot be washed off, to life.. The success of this play is in how well this darkness and nightmare is portrayed not only by the characters but by the mood, atmosphere and setting of the piece.
“. . . an excellent interpretation. . .”
The darkness is set at the start of the play by the three weird witches, played by Elise Hudson, Julia Jensen Ray and Sarah Stryker. Dressed in hooded black robes with painted growling faces, they conjure a spell and meet up with Macbeth (played by Rob Kahn) and Banquo (played by Eric Van Wie). “Weird” meaning “fateful”, the witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king and Thane of Cawdor and Banquo’s children shall be kings. The witches sinister mood sets the ominous atmosphere of the play.
The prophecy unfolds as Duncan, the king of Scotland, played warmly by John Zak, hears of the victories of Macbeth and Banquo over Norway. Duncan also learns the Thane of Cawdor to be a traitor, orders his execution, and sends Macbeth’s cousin, a sensitively played Rosse, to announce to Macbeth that he is now Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and Duncan meet. Duncan thanks Macbeth, announces his son Malcolm as heir to the throne, and that night visits Macbeth’s castle.
In steps Lady Macbeth, voraciously played by Annabel Capper, seemingly possessed the entire play in one form or another. Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth, as he faces doubt, to murder Duncan in his sleep, allowing his takeover of the throne. Hence the blood and the guilt begin. The next morning when Macduff and Lennox arrive, Macbeth almost insinuates his guilt to Lennox, innocently played by Adam Kampouris, when Macduff then discovers the murdered king. Fearing their lives, Duncan’s sons flee- Malcolm, played by Josh Kachnycz, to England and Donalbain, played by Deaon Griffin-Pressley, to Ireland. Macbeth has Banquo killed but his son Fleance, played by Alexander Eltzroth, escapes. Because Macduff flees to England to join forces with Malcolm, Macbeth sees it as treason and has Macduff’s entire family savagely slaughtered.
Blood is the prominent symbol of guilt, persistent throughout the play. Macbeth played by Rob Kahn, also seems possessed the entire play as one bloody murder leads to another. But his possession is played with human and moral conscience. After every bloody crime his guilt and paranoia increase. The murderous blood wound on his forehead is a constant reminder and symbol. At a banquet, consumed with guilt, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo and tries to fight him. Lady Macbeth gradually goes insane from the guilt of the bloody murders with the savage slaughter of Macduff’s family taking its final toll. Though appearing strong in her waking moments, she is terrorized by their crimes during her sleepwalking nightmares. She ends up a victim to their sins of bloodshed and literally dies of guilt. Macduff seeks revenge, fights and kills Macbeth. Malcolm becomes the king of Scotland.
The action and drama take place in an intimate space and the voice projection of the characters are more than enough with this talented cast. Though the loud projection adds to the intensity of the text and emotion, it could afford more variance adding to the darkness and lessening the monotony. Rob Kahn as Macbeth and Annabel Capper as Lady Macbeth powerfully portray the tormented souls of their bloody crimes, but missing is a connection and chemistry between the two as husband and wife lovers, besides being business partners. William LeDent effectively plays Macduff, who discovers the murdered king and suspects Macbeth, receives news of his slaughtered family then seeks revenge and kills Macbeth. A lot to handle for one character, and LeDent plays it stoic to the end. Michael Gamache plays a lovable and genuine Rosse who delivers the horrifying news to Macduff. He brings a softness yet a contradictory justifiable anger to his character.
The choreographer, Colleen Hughes and fight director, Michael Cosenza, do wonders with the witches movements and sword fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff. The sets designed by Bethanie Wampol, are simple and elegant wooden looms with organic branch shapes attached behind each. The looms slide across the stage allowing for openings or close completely as an upstage backdrop. An intriguing design evoking the feeling of an imprisoned environment yet with a zen-like quality.
The setting could have been dramatically more dark. Lighting designer, Michael Lambui, went from brighter to softer and darker lighting with interesting hues of green and violet. The horror depicted by director, Khan, was marvelously inspired by Francis Bacon and Francisco Goya Paintings, though could have been translated further and more frequent with a darker stage. Most of the time the stage was uniformly well-lit. At times it demanded a darker atmosphere with a soft light to fall on the characters in their madness, which magnificently emulates a Bacon or Goya painting. The witches and murderers in their dark robes and costumes were close in realizing this interpretation. Macbeth and Macduff are effectively dressed in dark leather attire. Costume designer, Vickie Esposito, creates a Renaissance fashion runway court. Making a bold statement with complementary colors. King Duncan is draped in red while noblemen and women are draped in both red and green. Costumes are beautifully designed, all fresh and new.
Sound designer, Fabian Obispo, created lively drum beats filling the space between scenes and thunderstorms added darkness to dark.
The audience experiences an excellent interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a lord who commits regicide and entangles himself in a string of dark consequences. By the end of the play the audience is as exhausted as Macbeth, and like Macbeth, almost relieved the darkness is over.
Running Time: 2 Hours 20 Minutes including one 15 Minute Intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 14 and older.
Macbeth runs until May 21, 2016 and is presented by the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre in Philadelphia.