Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review My Son, the Waiter
Shakespeare's tragedy involves elements of the supernatural to tell the tale of Scottish General Macbeth. After three witches tell him of a prophecy that he will one day become King of Scotland, Macbeth decides to take matters into his own hands to make the prediction come true. His wife, Lady Macbeth, spurs him on and together they plot the murder of Duncan, the current King. But things spiral out of control, forcing Macbeth to oversee the murders of those who are threats to his keeping the throne. This killing spree takes its toll on both Macbeth and his wife and they descend into madness. The beauty of Shakespeare's tale is in its simplicity to effectively show how ambition and deceit ultimately consume them both.
The two characters feed off of each other, and Terence MacSweeny is quite effective in showing us the connection that Macbeth and his wife have. He clearly gets across Macbeth's anguish and paranoia, and the scenes in which he is haunted by the ones he has personally killed or had others kill is riveting. However, I wish he were somewhat more passionate in the pivotal scene in the second act when Macbeth receives some news about his wife.
Tina Mitchell is solid as Lady Macbeth. Her portrayal clearly shows a woman who is possessed, persuasive and determined. Her slow progression into insanity, with a marvelously played sleep walking scene, is stunning and chilling.
The remainder of the large cast is quite effective, especially Jesse James Kamps as Banquo, Ross Hellwig as Macduff and Andy Cahoon as Malcolm. Kamps' Banquo is brave and fearless, and when he is killed, Kamps is extremely unnerving as Banquo's ghost. Hellwig is determined as Macduff, the man on a mission to kill Macbeth, and Cahoon as Malcolm, the eldest son of Duncan, the King whom Macbeth kills, displays a sense of royalty and calmness, traits that come together nicely when he delivers the play's final speech. Kat Mcintosh, Trisha Miller and Allison Sell are appropriately scary and weird as the three sisters whose prophecy sets the play in motion.
Direction by Sabin Epstein is never heavy handed, letting the actors naturally inhabit the characters and allowing Shakespeare's language to flow beautifully. Epstein also effectively stages the production to draw us in to see the characters anguish by having several key scenes play close to the lip of the stage. He also uses pacing very well, with a somewhat slow pace in the beginning quickening once the murder spree begins. Epstein has the word "Fate" hang over the back of the stage throughout the show and those four letters effectively sum up the outcome of not just Macbeth and his wife but every character in the show.
While the set design by Pegi Marshall-Amundsen is fairly minimalistic, with only a square pseudo fighting ring in the center of the stage as the only set piece, it is highly effective in the use of red as the only color in any of the set and prop elements. Obviously, that color is directly tied to the blood, of which there is plenty in this production. Three screens hover over the stage and various projections that are simple, yet effective, are used to tie together the events happening below them. The cauldron for the witches is quite effective as well. Costumes from designer Maci Hosler are, for the most part, in shades of grey, which work well against the use of red in the set and projection elements. Lighting by Michael J. Eddy is appropriately moody, stark and clean. There are also striking sound effects and effective musical undertones from sound designer Peter Bish and composer Mark Brisbane throughout the play. Fight choreography by David Barker is impressive, especially the sequence for the death of Banquo and Macbeth's encounter with Macduff.
Ultimately, Macbeth is the story of ambition, what people will do to achieve it, and the aftermath of those actions. It is a moody and complex play full of many emotional moments, some of Shakespeare's most famous lines of dialogue as well as some gruesome elements, too. The Southwest Shakespeare Company production is powerful and effective with clear direction, sleek design elements and a fairly well cast group of actors including a wonderful portrayal of Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth runs through January 25th in repertory with The Taming of the Shrew with performances at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street in Mesa, Arizona. Tickets can be purchased at swshakespeare.org or by calling (602) 535 - 1202.
Director: Sabin Epstein