There are two spectacular performances on display in the new production of William Shakespeare's classic tragedy, using the play's full title of The Tragedy of Macbeth, that opened last night at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre. They serve to remind why Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's finest works, with some of the theatre's juiciest roles.
Alicia Sedwick infuses her Lady Macbeth with a smoldering sexuality that seems to make the stage sizzle under her feet. She uses every part of her soul and body to encourage Macbeth in his quest for the Scottish throne, and plumbs the inner depths of her soul as she details her plans near the play's beginning, pays the consequences for her actions closer to the end, and at every moment in between.
With rugged good looks and an air of unmistakable authority, David Alan Basche owns the stage at his every appearance, finding new depths and interpretation in every line he speaks. He makes his character's complex emotional journeys seem effortless, and his understated intensity seems only to increase as the play goes on. His last scenes are as masterful and powerful as any you could ask for.
There is only one problem. Basche is playing Macduff, Macbeth's adversary.
The responsibility of the title role has fallen to Ian Kahn, who seems to be working very hard, but is no match for either Sedwick or Basche. Any emotions his Macbeth may be experiencing seldom reach beyond the stage, and though he raises and lowers his voice quite often, and speaks so deliberately as to approach lethargy, it is difficult to tell if he truly understands the lines he is saying. It is an unfortunate circumstance when Macbeth's greatest contribution to scenes is made by not appearing in them.
The Tragedy of Macbeth might still work if the Macbeth were the only weak link. That is not the case here. The director, Peter Royal, has some interesting ideas in presenting the story of Macbeth's murderous rampage as he climbs to power. Some work, such as having the characters observe the action after they die, and using of Matthew Maraffi's leveled and surprising set to creates some frequently fascinating stage pictures. Some, like his sword fights at the beginning and the end of the show, or the overuse of loud Beethoven music, neither help nor particularly hurt matters. But some of his choices are incredibly damaging to the production.
The most egregious involve the three weird sisters, played by Annette Hunt, Alysia Reiner, and Orville Mendoza (yes, one of them is male). Royal chose to have them present throughout the performance, observing and echoing certain lines. While not a bad idea, its implementation leaves much to be desired. The sisters' voices are piped through the sound system (designed by Mark Huang), leaving them sounding disembodied, and distracting from the action rather than enhancing it. Later, the "bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" scene is bewilderingly and embarrassingly staged, with the sisters delivering most of their lines under what appears to be demonic possession. Since most of the information they impart is repeated later, the fact that the sisters' words are amplified to the point of incomprehensibility is sort of beside the point.
Hunt, Reiner, and Mendoza do their best as the sisters, and in the other roles they perform throughout the show. The other cast members are more of a mixed bag. As Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne, Elliot Villar gives a surprisingly low-key and textured performance. The young Jonathan C. Lichtman, as Macduff's son, is also particularly noteworthy. Jeffrey Shoemaker as Duncan and David Pendleton as the King, Banquo, make decidedly more negative impressions, never really bringing their characters to life.
Macbeth, like most of Shakespeare's tragedies, is complex and fascinating, with merits that can never completely be done in by a poor production. Royal and Kahn's contributions cannot rightfully be ignored, but luckily, nor can the scintillating performances of Sedwick and Basche who prevent The Tragedy of Macbeth from being a complete tragedy indeed.
The Diamondpoint Theater Company