Friday, Feb. 19, 2010

The First Night Of Two Shakespeares

What Do You Say To Macbeth before the show?--Scattered thoughts On Off The Wall’s Macbeth.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Two of the three Shakespeare productions to open this month open on consecutive nights, which has allowed me the opportunity to attend both Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing on consecutive evenings. Due to a strange and irregular schedule for the day, I’d arrived at the Off The Wall Theatre a bit early for Macbeth. I’d considered going in a bit early and slouching about Off The Wall’s tiny storefront lobby space for an hour—never done that before in years of going to the theatre. It always seemed kind of cozy . . . And as I arrived, I saw Jeremy Welter in full costume as a 20th Century Macbeth, complete with facepaint and battle fatigues. Macbeth was having a cigarette in the doorway entrance of the theatre. I nodded at him, said hello. He nodded back. I walked on . . . rounded the corner and did the same to the bronze Fonz. What do you say to Macbeth before the show? You can warn him about everything that’s going to happen, but it’ll all play out the same anyway . . . y’know. . . he’s a victim of fate.

The production itself was a bit out of balance, which actually kind of works for Macbeth. The fact that the show, for me at least, was wholly unsatisfying is no reason not to see it. (Sounds convoluted, I know. I hope to explain why in my review of the show in next week’s Shepherd. By the time that review hits the street, the remainder of the run of the show will likely be sold-out anyway.)

Director Dale Gutzman’s sound design for the show, which is pretty heavily scored with actual music, held a bit of a distraction for me . . . at one point, he’s quite clearly using the main theme for Twelve Monkeys. (I believe that was Paul Buckmaster . . .) The reference was interesting . . . it and Macbeth are both about tragic fate in a way, but the reference was a bit of a distraction for me . . . pretty jarring actually as Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys had the kind of brilliant balance to it that Gutzman’s patchwork Macbeth lacked. A fun reference anyway, though . . .

Each of the three productions I’ve seen recently have bits about them that are better than the other two. And with Gutzman’s instincts, it’s not surprising that elements of this production do outshine both the APT and the late Milwaukeee Shakespeare productions. One of those is one of the witches: Lisa Golda makes my Three Weird Sisters all-stars. The characters are fun and can be done in a variety of different ways. Here Golda looks really impressive as a contemporary witch . . . sort of a stage contemporary semi-goth, neo-pagan, pseudo-Wiccan sort of look about her that lurks around the corner of the stage quite aesthetically. The character has that preternatural wisdom about her and Golda seems even aware that the audience may be looking at her . . . it’s a very cool look that ads an immeasurably pleasant kind of subtlety to the production. The lines Shakespeare gives the witches are kind of tedious, but they come across pretty well here anyway. Golda and Allison Mary Forbes (who had a pleasant kind of otherworldliness in the Milwaukee Shakespeare production) make my Macbeth three fate sisters all-stars. Having seen the show staged three times, I still miss the staging of it that played out in my head the first time I read the script—the idea that the three witches would be completely apathetic and intolerably bored with the events as they play out onstage. The bored sisters of fate would not be at all at odds with the script if you stage it right and there’s nothing more sinister than a group of people who know what’s going to happen to you and couldn’t possibly care less about it. That to me would be a lot of fun . . .

There were other parts here that were a lot of fun . . .I particularly like David Roper as the porter in the second act. At the top of the third scene in the second act, he addresses the audience in aside, mentioning the guilt there is in everything, he’s not playing it over-the-top drunk. He’s being very casual and subtly witty about it . . .it’s a really fun moment . . . kind of fits with the way the I’d like to see the witches done some time . . .

Off The Wall’s Macbeth runs through March 7th. As of this writing, the only two shows which aren’t sold-out are those on the 24th and 25th. A review of the show runs in next week’s Shepherd-Express.

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