Sunday, September 28, 2008

Macbeth (Great Lakes Theater Festival)

‘MACBETH’ highlights new GLTF home at the refurbished Hanna

‘MACBETH,’ the first production in The Great Lakes Theater Festival’s new 14.7 million dollar new home, shows off all the elements of the refurbished Hanna Theatre. From the very first drum beat, director Charles Fee uses the intimate facility to its maximum effect. Electronic platforms make actors and set pieces rise and fall from the thrust stage area. Special light effects, possible with the enhanced illumination system, are ever present. The audience is brought into the action by actors passing within inches of them as the performers charge up and down the aisles.

For those concerned about what happened to the Hanna, worry not. In spite of the change in seating patterns, the balcony, a favorite viewing area for many, still exists, complete with its ornate plaster front decorations. In fact, all of the colorfully painted ornateness is still there. The wonderful auditorium ceiling, the proscenium arch and the decoration on the side boxes have all been retained. Only the paint color on the walls has been adjusted. A bland beige has been used to cover the original color.

One of the wonders of the theatre is the acoustics. No mikes are needed for the actors to be easily heard throughout the theatre. No mike squeals or uneven balance between actors’ spoken words. Hurrah! This is theatre as it should be.

Yes, the initial attention on opening night seemed to center on the trappings, the new bar area, the spacious and more comfortable seats, the wider aisles. But, the attention soon shifted to the stage, where Fee has created a wonder-filled production.

‘MACBETH,’ which is among the best-known of Shakespeare's plays, is loosely drawn on the historical account of King Macbeth of Scotland. Originally conceived in four acts, it tells of the dangers of the lust for power and the betrayal of friends.

The main action centers on Macbeth, whose wife, Lady Macbeth, hatches a plan to murder the king and secure the throne. Although Macbeth raises concerns about the regicide, Lady Macbeth eventually persuades him, by challenging his manhood, to follow her plan. Unfortunately, the prophecies of three spirits that Macbeth encounters in the woods, who state that his heirs will not inherit the throne come true. They tell him to "beware Macduff", but that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth." These actions carry forth the plot.

The play is filled with great scenes including the one in which Lady Macbeth, racked with guilt from the crimes she and her husband have committed, sleepwalks and tries to wash imaginary bloodstains from her hands, all the while speaking of the terrible things she knows.

There are many superstitions centered on the belief that the play is somehow "cursed", and many actors will not mention the name of the play aloud, referring to it instead as “The Scottish Play.” Great Lakes was not immune from the curse. Associate Artistic Director Andrew May, who was to portray Macbeth, was injured prior to production and had to be replaced.

As for the GLTF staging, Fee has been nothing but creative. He utilized on-stage percussionists performing Japanese taiko drumming; reconceptualized the witches into spirits who transform themselves into blackbirds, trees and images; remolded the play into two acts, thus shortening it without losing any impact; used a Japanese flavor which influenced not only the startling set but the costumes and stage movements; underplayed rather than overacted Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s famous speeches; and, called on general American pronunciation which makes for ease in understanding.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Questions can be raised. Did Dougfred Miller (Macbeth) and Laura Perrotta (Lady Macbeth) give great performances? Bottom line, both are quite adequate and do not detract from the overall effect. Should the actor’s speeches be given to each other rather than directed to the audience? Probably yes. Do the drum sounds lose their effect after a while? I didn’t find that true though some members of the audience seemed to think so. Were Phil Carroll and Tim Try strong enough as Duncan’s sons? No.

Some factors are clear. The witches, Sara Bruner, Laura Welsh Berg and Cathy Prince are outstanding. Drummers Seth Asa Sengel and Matthew Webb grab and hold attention. David Anthony Smith (Macduff), Dudley Swetland (Porter), Aled Davies (Duncan, King of Scotland) and Lynn Robert Berg (Banquo) are excellent.

Kudos to Scenic Designer Gage Williams, Costume Designer Star Moxley, Lighting Designer Rick Martin and Fight Choreographer Ken Merckx, who incorporate Kabuki-like movements and gymnastics into the fighting, for creating the technical aspects which enhanced the production.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: GLTF’s new home is spectacular and their opening production does the venue proud! This is a ‘MACBETH’ which should be seen in a facility that should be enjoyed.

Sidenote: An excellent ‘TEACHER PREPARATION GUIDE’ has been prepared by Daniel Hahn, Kelly Schaffer Florian and Cherly Kleps to be used by instructors who are bringing their students to see the play. They can be obtained by contacting Hahn at 216-241-5490.