Friday, July 19, 2013

Independent Shakespeare Co.’s 2013 Production Of Macbeth

For me, summer in Los Angeles means free Shakespeare. The Independent Shakespeare Co.’s Griffith Park productions are what excite me the most about summer. This summer they’re putting on Macbeth, As You Like It, and one non-Shakespeare play, She Stoops To Conquer, written by Oliver Goldsmith.

Last night I caught their production of Macbeth, and it was fantastic. I was seriously impressed by this show, and that’s even with having gone with high expectations. The cast is excellent all around, particularly Luis Galindo, who is phenomenal as Macbeth. Also, there were moments when Lady Macbeth had me spellbound, and that I think is a difficult role.

The three witches have a strong presence in this production, appearing in several scenes, sometimes taking on the supporting roles of attendants and such. They’re dressed in white, in great contrast to the rest of the cast, who are in dark, somber colors. In the first scene they repeat “Fair is foul and foul is fair” to a drum beat. The rest of the company joins in, marching in place, and this leads directly to the second scene, where the Captain tells Duncan of the battle. The witches and others remain on stage until the Captain’s wounds make him faint.

In Act I Scene iv, when Duncan says, “O worthiest cousin,” one of the witches stands upstage, watching. It’s interesting, because you could take it that the witches are sort of controlling things behind the scenes, or that they just enjoy watching their predictions come true. Either way, you get the sense that they are part of a destiny that is inescapable. When Banquo embraces Duncan, he actually lifts him.

Lady Macbeth seems ambitious from the start. Also, interestingly, there is an air of magic about her. In Act I Scene v, she creates a circle on the floor with small stones. And it is one of the witches who acts as messenger, telling her the king is coming. Lady Macbeth then steps into the circle for “Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.” When Macbeth enters, he embraces her within the circle, which is great, symbolically binding them.

This production has many excellent moments. In Act I Scene vii, Lady Macbeth breaks a bit after “I have given suck,” as if the memory of their mysterious child is still difficult for her, and Macbeth holds her. This is such a wonderful moment, as it brings Macbeth to his wife, and this is after he has decided against their plan. But after this moment, he is once again ready to proceed. It’s interesting, because Lady Macbeth seems so honest and vulnerable in that moment, that Macbeth of course has to embrace her. But you could also wonder if she did this purposefully to bring Macbeth around again to the plan.

It is one of the witches to whom Macbeth says “Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready/She strike upon the bell” (in Act II Scene i). So again it is the witches that attend upon Lady Macbeth. In Act II Scene ii, there is the sound effect of an owl prompting Lady Macbeth’s line. It’s one of the few things that felt unnecessary. Later in that scene Lady Macbeth is excellent when making the decision to take the daggers. What an incredible moment.

In Act II Scene iii, the Porter comes from the audience to answer the knocking. He pees into a bucket, and then breaks out of Shakespeare for a bit to explain what the word “equivocate” means. I always have mixed feelings about adding modern jokes to Shakespeare’s works. In very small doses, it can work – like just a word or a look, a nod to the audience. In this production, this goes on a bit long, with him borrowing an iPhone from an audience member to look up the word, and then dropping it into the piss bucket. Of course, if you are going to throw in some modern humor, this is the scene for it (and I do love this actor – he was particularly wonderful as Falstaff in Merry Wives a couple of years ago). At the end of that scene, two of the witches bring suitcases on stage for Malcolm and Donalbain.

In Act III Scene ii, Macbeth frightens Lady Macbeth when he says his head is full of scorpions. This is another wonderful moment between these two, and they do a great job showing the changing dynamic of their relationship. (By the way, in Act III Scene ii, Macbeth says “scorch’d the snake,” not the emendation “scotch’d.”) In the next scene, it is the Porter who plays the third murderer.

A bit of color is added to the costumes when Lady Macbeth wears a green dress with a purplish fur for the banquet scene. Banquo does appear, rising from beneath the table, in this production. There is also a bit of interesting staging with his head appearing as a course.

There is an intermission, coming after the line “We are but young in deed” at the end of Act III Scene iv.

The second half begins with Act III Scene vi (Scene v being cut, as usual). The two men hold newspapers, those being the source of the information they share with each other, and with us.

In Act IV Scene i, the witches’ cauldron is a silver trash can. Rather than have the appearance of the apparitions, each witch drinks from the cauldron and then speaks the apparition’s lines, as if channeling the spirit. Then when the witches say “Come like shadows,” they give Macbeth a drink. The witches then circle him as the procession of kings that Macbeth sees.

There is another bit of color added, with Lady Macduff’s purple dress. The last lines from this scene are cut, when her son, having been stabbed, says, “He has killed me, mother.” I think Act IV Scene iii is a tough scene to do well, but this cast’s Macduff and Malcolm do a really good job with it. The three witches surround Malcolm when he talks about how he is worse than Macbeth. He then dismisses them with a small gesture when he’s ready to reveal his true intentions to Macduff. Macduff is absolutely perfect in the scene where he learns of his wife and children’s deaths.

In Act V Scene i, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks onto the stage from the audience. Interestingly, the Doctor embraces her before he says her malady is beyond him. She responds to his embrace, taking him to be Macbeth. This works to make her situation even more heartrending. And then, just before she says “What’s done cannot be undone,” she seems perhaps to come out of her spell, seeming to really see the Doctor and the Gentlewoman for who they are. Is she still asleep, or is she offering this truth from the safe guise of sleep? It’s a really wonderful moment.

Seyton is the Porter in this production, and after he tells Macbeth that Lady Macbeth is dead, there is a nice long moment before Macbeth gives that famous speech. (Though now that I think of it, Macbeth might have left out the first two lines and begun with “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.”)

The fight between Macbeth and Macduff is done really well, with lots of blood. In this production Macduff finally kills Macbeth far upstage and does not cut off his head. So when he has the line about Macbeth’s head, he indicates the body. The three witches are present at the end for Malcolm’s speech, and then remain on stage, one of the witches saying, “When shall we three meet again?” And that is the last line of this production, ending where it began, as if perhaps to suggest that the troubles are not over.

This was an excellent production. If you haven’t seen it, I believe there are ten more performances between now and August 31st.

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