Wednesday, December 21, 2016

MACBETH: The Seeing Place Offers A Gritty Production in Tune With the Mood of the Country

 Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican
Photo by Russ Rowland

The Seeing Place's rapid-paced production of Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Paradise Factory in the East Village is a flaming roller coaster plunge that engulfs the power-grubbing pair at its center, along with anyone else who has the misfortunate of being in the path of their callous ascent or their inexorable free-fall to doom. 

There is a distinctly nihilistic tone to this gritty production, one that by sheer happenstance permeates another Shakespeare work right across the street at the New York Theatre Workshop, the star-powered Othello that likewise concerns itself with the "collateral damage" wrought by a calculating sociopath. A sign of our times?  

More than is true with most presentations, the characters of Macbeth (Brandon Walker) and his lady (Erin Cronican) come off as minor and ill-prepared members of the aristocracy who are suddenly presented with the opportunity to rise to the highest ranks. All (!) they have to do is murder the sitting King Duncan (G. W. Reed), who conveniently is spending the night with them under light guard.    

As portrayed by Mr. Walker, Macbeth may be a worthy soldier, honored in the opening scene for his valor on the battlefield, but he makes for a lousy civilian leader. He is an out-of-control child whose toy gun has been replaced by a loaded one, and his milk-and-cookies with a flask of artificial courage. Egged on by his glory-seeking wife and by the prophesies of the three witches (Jane Kahler, Lisa-Marie Newton, and Candice Oden), Macbeth does the deed and sets into motion the crumbling of the kingdom and the destruction of any who stand in his way, including women and children and imagined enemies. 

There is no point in blaming things on fate. To pull in a line from another of Shakespeare's plays, "the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Here, for instance, the witches come off not so much as key players bent on bringing Macbeth to his knees for their own cackling pleasure, but as passers-by whom Macbeth happens to run into. He is the "something wicked" who enters their world, and not the other way around. All that unfolds lies within Macbeth's capacity to control.     

While keeping up the relentless pacing of the production, the company has avoided any trimming of the play, bringing it in at just under two hours without intermission. Even at that pace, one thing that is nicely highlighted is the sad story of the murders of Lady Macduff and her children, and the later reaction of her husband to the news. These are touching moments that underscore the truly horrific damage that Macbeth has wrought, so that we are complicit in wanting to see his downfall.  

As an actor, Brandon Walker is perfectly suited to this role. Walker is never one to stand still, which fits the anxious, pacing, and often out-of-control Macbeth. By way of contrast, Erin Cronican gives us a quieter, more naturalistic Lady Macbeth, the woman-behind-the-man who whispers him into action. While they manage to hold it together, they come off as the perfect power couple. 

The rest of the cast, a mix of Equity and non-Equity actors, does not always mesh in tone, and sometimes the speed of the line readings results in a lack of clarity, but overall this is a strikingly contemporary take on "the Scottish play" that  captures the mood of the country right now and proves once again that Shakespeare's voice is one to be reckoned with for all times.

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  


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