Mortal Folly does it again with their sophomore production, a fairly faithful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. After the success of A Midsummer Night’s Dream earlier this year (one of the best productions I’ve ever seen of Midsummer), Mortal Folly chose to follow it up with one of Shakespeare’s darker dramas. Director Katherine Harte-DeCoux has “been thinking about Macbeth for years”, and it shows; although she says it wasn’t exactly the version she has envisioned in her head, this production has some stunning moments, and shows off the talents of both the director, the actors, and the creative team quite nicely.
It’s apparent that Ms. Harte-DeCoux has a keen understanding of the text; the actors seem well at ease with the language, exhibiting traits of good training, intelligent and visceral acting choices, and informed direction on their leader’s part. It’s easy to chalk off this play as an overdone melodrama about a weak-willed man pushed into making bad choices by an over-grasping wife, but the tweaks made in this adaptation bring moments to the surface that illuminate the story in a completely new way. Rather than rolling in his grave, I suspect Mr. Shakespeare would rather claw his way up to applaud the choices made here, choices that at last lend credence to Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness (a powerful performance by Liz Sklar), as well as cementing lesser known character relationships (Brandon Smith pulls off some amazingly understated acting as Macbeth’s lieutenant, Seyton). I was particularly impressed by the fact that Macbeth (Matthew Rini) did not come across as a character so blinded by ambition he allows himself to be manipulated by those around him (Lady M and the witches). Not even Fate could truly be blamed for this Macbeth’s actions, although his belief in Fate definitely has an effect on his downfall.
The rest of the ensemble are pros: Hannah Sloat, after catching my eye as Puck earlier this year, continues to amaze me with her total commitment and inhabitation of her characters (here she plays one of the witches, Macduff’s son, and Yound Seyward). Mark August as Macduff has beautiful moments onstage, particularly between himself and John Short as Malcolm. Bryant Martin as Ross shares a tender scene with Alyssa Borg as Lady Macduff, both again exhibiting some very subtle yet nuanced acting. Erik Cheski does double duty as King Duncan and King Seyward, doing an excellent job of distinguishing between the two men. Robert Lee Taylor has a good time with the Doctor, as does Melanie Stroh with her Gentlewoman part, delivering plenty of laughs during the Porter of Hellsgate scene. Joesy Nicole Housley is frightening as a murderer, together with the afore-mentioned Robert Taylor. Sam Eggers plays Fleance and Donalbain well, important roles each. Rounding out the cast is David Ellis as Banquo, who gets to look good onstage both swinging his sword and shaking his gory locks.
The play particularly shines in the action sequences, choreographed by fight director Nathan DeCoux. As the chosen tagline for this production states, “Blood will have Blood,” and once it starts flowing it doesn’t cease till the bloody climax. Both the martial style and the weapons and armor were all created by Mr. DeCoux, setting the action firmly in a pseudo-fantasy medieval world that is both exciting and supportive of the cinematic feel of this production.
Where the production had problems was in the technical delivery of the play. On opening night there were some awkward pauses accompanied by cursing from the tech booth. The lighting was fairly basic, with some odd moments that could easily have been mistakes rather than choices. While the music that accompanied some of the scenes was good, the levels were inconsistent, and the rest of the sound design suffered a bit. The overall feeling was that the technical resources available to the company weren’t able to match the aspirations of the company. As Macbeth says to Lennox in the aftermath of the King’s murder, “’Twas a rough night.” Ultimately, my feeling was that the technical kinks will work themselves out, allowing the brightness of the play to shine through.
Macbeth is a classic play, performed by a company that has a passion and a hunger for presenting classic work in a way that is exciting to contemporary audiences, and that excitement really shines through. This production is well worth attending, and shows great promise for a young company that will hopefully be with us for years to come.
Macbeth continues through December 19th at the Gene Frankel Theater, visit www.mortalfollytheatre.org for more info, showtimes and tickets.