Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Optimist Theatre: Macbeth

On Sunday evening, July 1, we went to the Alverno College courtyard for this summer's free Shakespeare production, "Macbeth." The company delivered an enjoyable presentation that was long on sense and short on grue.

Acting was generally up to a very high standard. Unfortunately, two of the weakest performances were by Tom Reed, in the crucial and lengthy title role, and Michael Cotey as Malcom. Both men had similar problems—a certain stiffness of stance, and a definite inflexibility of the vocal instrument. Reed's tone is all very one-note, whether happy or sad, raving or musing, this in a role that practically defines scene-chewing and calls in any case for great range. A certain physical stiffness may also be accounted for by the fact that Reed is short, especially when compared with Timothy Linn as Banquo, and Andrew Voss as Macduff, and Reed may have been trying for a more authoritative presence. Both Linn and Voss give a much more naturalistic portrayal of wild Highland clansmen than the seemingly calculating Macbeth.

Cotey's Malcom seems more like a deliberate acting choice, since we see in the last scene that he can roar out, so the very flat affect may have been attempting to portray a shy and withdrawn young man. However, if that were so, his more relaxed scene with Macduff should have shown more emotional range.

The really stellar performance was Marti Gobel as Lady Macbeth. She made excellent use of the intimate performing space to make eye contact with the audience during her soliloquies, which made us feel that she was talking TO us, and making us complicit in her dreadful plans.

Timothy Linn as Banquo was vital and powerful when alive, and made an excellent and fearsome ghost as well. His fright makeup and staring eyes as "blood-boltered Banquo" were extremely effective.

The three witches were more New Age than frightening, looking like youthful depictions of the Celtic goddesses Morrigan, Babd, and Macha, which was interesting and fresh, but at odds with the script description of "secret, black and midnight hags" who can't readily be identified as male or female, or even human.

The cast in general made very good use of the small but multi-level playing area. I didn't "get" the backdrop at first, which looked just like sheets with holes in them and seemed more like sails than anything else. Then the light changed and the paired slits in each panel gave them the appearance of ghostly faces.

Costuming was a weak point. Kilts are expensive, so I can see why they didn't go with those, and as far as it went, the kind of street-gang odds and ends of leather and padding for armor weren't bad. What I didn't appreciate was the peculiar one-shouldered jackets and tunics even for dress wear that seemed to be a half-baked suggestion of the plaid over the shoulder, but only succeeded in looking odd. One directorial decision I did not think worked well at all was the choice to bring Macbeth's "severed head" on stage, and leave Malcom stuck awkwardly holding it throughout his final speech.

All in all, still a very enjoyable production despite its flaws. The Optimist Theatre project is a very worthy one, and it will be interesting to see what comes next.

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Tags: shakepeare, theatre

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