10/16/2022 THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse
So. Macbeth. Thane. Husband. Scotsman. Assassin. Object of Theatrical Superstition.
Now that I’ve said the name, do I need to take my laptop outside, turn around three times, and beg the dog to let us back in?
I could sit here and draw on all my factual (and reason-based) resources to debunk the superstification of the “Scottish Play,” (the curse was actually a Victorian invention designed to sell tickets  enthusiastically embraced by actors everywhere – and apparently always -- to the point that you could get fired for refusing the Stage Manager’s demands for completing the ritual).
I could discuss the historical context of the play’s creation, how it can be confidently dated to 1606 because of the references to the Gunpowder Plot (especially the Porter’s constant talk of “equivocation”), how it was a “love letter” to the newly installed James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots, author of Daemonologie, (a treatise on witchcraft and all things supernatural), who claimed decent from Banquo).
I could discuss the play’s plots and themes and characters and mood and performance history.
Or I could write about the Shakespeare Tavern’s current production, another in what has become an October tradition for the company.
I have seen over a dozen productions but cannot wallow in my usual habit of plagiarizing myself to fill out this page with previously composed template PowerPoint bullet points, as every time I’ve written about it, my reaction has been different.
Here is one of the few productions that has gone the traditional route of Elizabethan costumes and playing style, and, for the most part, it works, providing a few unexpected light moments and a boatload of suspense. It has the usual mix of Tavern performance levels, mostly adequate, some extraordinary. It even has a few staging ideas that pleasantly surprised me with their originality and effectiveness, especially the cauldron scene at the top of Act II (Tavern Act II, not Shakespeare Act II).
Which is to say this is one of the better productions that I have seen, not hampered by ill-advised stunt-casting (as was Serenbe’s 2017 production) or self-indulgent direction (as was Georgia Shakespeare’s 2012 production). It boasts a good performance by Nicholas Faircloth in the title role, who brings more than the usual share of wit and humor to the role, but who, to my eyes, comes across as a bit soft, a bit less than fearsome. It boasts a most excellent performance by Amanda Lindsey MacDonald who brings to Lady Macbeth a youthful energy seemingly at odds with the usual more middle-aged approach, but who finds nuance and energy that deepens the character and makes her descent into madness more moving than normal, more tragic than expected.
Minor roles filled by Kenneth Wigley (Duncan / Porter / Doctor) are skillfully and elegantly presented as are the witches (and murderers – excellent double-casting choice!) of Patty de la Garza, Rachel Frawley, and Mila Bolash. If the other supporting roles fall into a sameness that makes me wish Shakespeare had his characters address each other by name more often, they nonetheless acquit themselves admirably in regard to language and pace and story.
Director and Fight Choreographer Mary Ruth Ralston keeps the action moving briskly with a terrific final battle sequence, and Lighting Designer Greg Hanthorn Jr keeps the tragedy suitably dark and moody. Costumes by Anne Carol Butler and Clint Horne make excellent use of clan tartans and armor and gowns and doublets. In fact the entire physical production is a rapturous wallow in the sort of theatre I have come to expect at the Tavern.
Macbeth, like most of Shakespeare, is a play I can see over and over, one that is often filmed for either good or ill – see versions by Orson Welles, Roman Polanski, and (most recently) Denzel Washington if you want to see how wide the range of interpretations can be. It is a tightly focused descent into the madness (and banality) of evil, a cautionary tale about meddling in the affairs of witches, a loyal subject’s Valentine to a new (and paranoid) king who, after a recent assassination attempt, is understandably paranoid. And, in the final analysis, it is an exciting evening in the theatre.
And that’s no equivocation!
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com #ascMacbeth #ShakespeareTavern)