Murder and Madness
"So fair and foul a day I have not seen" goes the famous line in Macbeth and, may it be said, so fair and foul a play can now be seen in a recently opened production at New Theatre in Coral Gables. Shakespeare's shortest tragedy is one of his most magnificent and most produced works, but it's quite a task to stage, perform, and watch.
The dense text is riddled with obscure references, broken poetic meter, and quite probably amendments made by another writer. Graphic violence, ghosts, witches, and other production headaches abound. Added to which, the title character, who is onstage for most of the show, fights several pitched battles at the end of the play. Besides this, the work is jinxed, at least according to theater lore. There have been so many strange mishaps connected with the Scottish tragedy that many veteran actors don't dare mention its name inside a theater. There's even a book, The Night Has Been Unruly, that chronicles the deaths, fires, and other disasters associated with its production throughout the centuries.
The story can hardly be more familiar. Macbeth is a famous general in war-ravaged Scotland. He meets three female witches who foretell his ascension to the throne. Torn between honor and ambition, and at the urging of his power-hungry wife, Macbeth murders the rightful king. After gaining the crown, he abandons his conscience altogether and continues to murder to maintain his rule.
Director Rafael de Acha's stark, modern-dress staging solves some but not all of the play's formidable problems. Purists may grit their teeth at the many textual cuts and revisions, and those unfamiliar with the story may find some aspects a bit confusing. Gone from this production is the bleeding sergeant who reports Macbeth's exploits, the drunken porter who answers the knock at the gate, the scenes depicting the murders of Banquo and Lady Macduff, and the death of Young Siward. The famous banquet scene is a stripped-down, stand-up cocktail party, and the climactic battle in the final act is dispensed with altogether. The weird sisters are not "withered hags" but busty leather-clad goth grrlz whose writhing choreography looks like something out of Chicago. This may not make much sense to some, but it does inject a sexual energy that echoes the intensely erotic relationship Macbeth shares with his wife.
De Acha emphasizes the erotic energy of Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare's most powerful female character, and as Bridget Connors plays her, it's easy to see why Macbeth would bend to his wife's will. Connors's fiery, sensual performance combines verbal felicity with emotional and physical commitment. She commands attention whenever she is onstage, and her sleepwalking scene is particularly fine. In the title role, Keith Cassidy brings a modern intensity and physical power; for once, this muscular Macbeth actually looks like a warrior. But Cassidy lacks a mastery of the text; many speeches are mangled with odd pauses and phrasings, and he doesn't use the language to drive the story forward. As his crimes mount, Macbeth uses shorter and shorter words and phrases, in rhythmic builds. But instead of revving up more intensity, Cassidy settles back, turning more introspective at the worst possible moments. As Macbeth's nemesis Macduff, Euriamis Losada does well in the difficult scene when he learns the awful fate of his family. Annemaria Rajala also merits a nod, doing double duty as a lascivious witch and, in a brief but effective cameo, as an anguished lady in waiting.
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