By William Shakespeare
Directed by Les Waters
Review by Eli Keel
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Eli Keel. All rights reserved.
Jessica Frances Dukes in Macbeth. Photo by Bill Brymer.
Actors Theatre’s current staging of Macbeth is loud, bloody, and glorious. It’s far from a definitive take on one of the Bard’s finest tragedies, and no doubt some purists will wince at the modern dress and liberties taken with the script—gone is “double, double, toil and trouble” as well as the entire porter scene— but for this horror movie fan and Halloween junkie, it’s hard to imagine a better production.
What’s even better, despite the visceral action, which had my date gripping my arm like we were at a “slasher” movie, many of the finest moments of the script, the “out damned spot” as well as “tomorrow and tomorrow” speeches, shine all the brighter for the surrounding gore.
Director Les Waters’ vision is strong and violent, so much so that it might be easy to over look the excellent work most of the actors are turning in; but none of the special effects or fighting would land without strong work on the script’s prose and dialogue.
Andrew Garman’s Macbeth starts out nearly avuncular. He seems good-natured, and his physicality makes it credible that he’s winning battles, but you can almost imagine him whipping out goofy dad jokes at the banquet table. This starting place really allows Macbeth to change drastically throughout the show, giving him a more active arc than I believe I’ve ever seen before. By the time the world weary, bloody handed murderer enters the final battle, there is no trace of the kindly figure that first encountered the weird sisters.
But Macbeth is nothing without an equally powerful Lady Macbeth, and Jessica Frances Dukes’ is every bit Garman’s match. She casually dominates her early scenes, running roughshod over her Thane, and more than once bending him to her will with raw sex appeal. Waters gives Dukes the space to do some acting outside of her lines, giving a near gibbering quality to the aforementioned “out damned spot” speech, and a tableaux to end that first act where we pretty much see Lady Mac actively lose her mind. It’s a show stopping moment that led the younger end of the crowd to burst into wild applause at the act break.
The royal couple dominates the stage, but there’s excellent work going on in the supporting cast. Nicholas Hormann gives us a very presidential Duncan, landing somewhere between Joe Biden and Bill Clinton. He’s folksy as all get out, and manages to be very likable in the time we get to know him. Che Ayende, who appeared as Ogun Size in last year’s excellent production of The Brothers Size, threatens to steal early scenes from Garman with his powerful stage presence. It works great for the show though, as Ayende’s Banquo reads as a credible threat to Macbeth’s reign.
Jack Mikesell gets a lot of great stage time as a trio of characters: the Bloody Captain, Murderer, and Young Siward. His Murderer is quietly chilling, a soft voiced junkie whose humanity has eroded completely.
Conrad Schott’s Macduff failed to impress. He seemed almost wooden compared to other members of the ensemble. In the rest of the play Waters makes such deft moves holding up and examining masculinity, that I feel like he and Schott were aiming at some mark with this particularly characterization, but it didn’t land with me.
The design of the play is breathtaking, from the scene design by Andrew Boyce, to lights by Mark Barton, and the original sound and music by Christian Frederickson. In many ways it’s the design that makes this play feel so much like a horror film. A big round of applause needs to go to fight director Ryan Bourque as well; he makes the onstage action feel real and uncomfortable.
I loved this production, but the vision of the play didn’t seem to sit well with some of the older members of the audience, some of who could be overheard at intermission complaining about the sometimes-jarring use of sound. It’s a horror film guys, it’s supposed to make you jump. Then again, perhaps this production wasn’t aimed at them; that empty seat pass line was filed with twenty somethings, and stretched around the rotunda outside the Pamela Brown Auditorium. If you hear somebody asking why young people don’t go to the theatre, tell them those young people are showing up for this visceral and blood drenched take on Macbeth.
October 4-26, 2016
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Eli Keel is a Louisville based playwright, poet, storyteller, and freelance journalist. He has been published in Word Hotel, and his plays have been produced by Theatre , Finnigan Productions, and Derby City Playwrights, and he was invited to read his work at the 2014 Writer’s Block. He is a frequent contributor to LEO Weekly and Insider Louisville, where he has been given the (informal) title of “Chief of the Bureau of Quirk.”