Regional Reviews: San Diego
What is disappointing about The Old Globe's production for the 2016 Summer Shakespeare Festival is that there is not a lot of genuine intensity in the lengthy evening.
Set in a time where characters wear World War I-esque attire (by Oana Botez), the Scottish Thane of Glamis (Jonathan Cake) starts out as revered warrior. After meeting three witches (Makha Mthembu, Amy Blackman, and Suzelle Palacios), he is determined to become King of Scotland. Upon being further influenced by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Marsha Stephanie Blake), he attempts to kill Scotland's ruler, Duncan (Jerome Preston Bates). His actions lead to violently brutal consequences.
Scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado transforms the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre into a hospital ward. The introduction has a claustrophobic quality.
Brian Kulick directs the opening sequence with "sound and fury" as patients yell the name of the Thane. His prelude, while high pitched in volume, is an intriguing opening to the drama.
Cake has the swagger to come across as an initially heroic soldier. He gets the audience on his side before turning into a power hungry conspirator. But once Macbeth discusses possibly murdering Duncan with his wife, the tone of Kulick's interpretation becomes oddly comedic. Both stars handle their conversations like an old television sitcom. When appearing together, Macbeth is a basket case and his wife is the no nonsense spouse. Some viewers will have problems taking their time together seriously. Blake doesn't come across as an unethical mastermind. Instead, she seems more like a stern sharp-tongued schemer, which lessens the savage strength of the character.
A big issue is that there are significantly more comical moments than The Bard intended in his script. On the page, there is less comedy in Macbeth than in his other tragedies, e.g. Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet. In this production, there are so many segments intended to be funny that it takes away from the grim plot. One example is the scene in which Macbeth and his wife converse about possibly assassinating Duncan. They are consistently interrupted by a merry celebration happening in another room. Kulick's artistic choice lowers the dread during their exchange. It's true that the storyteller did include some lighter segments, particularly with a drunken porter (John Lavelle). Wickedly perverted, Lavelle hilariously creates his own fresh depiction of the professional carrier.
Two of the more empathetic performances come from Timothy D. Stickney and Clifton Duncan. Stickney plays the Scottish Thane, Banquo, as an upbeat soul with a love for life. When he is not around, his stage presence is often missed. Occasionally touching, Clifton Duncan never overplays the morally positive qualities of the Thane of Fife, Macduff. His reaction to a horrific incident is subtly powerful.
As for Cake, the actor conveys sorrow quite effectively. His dagger soliloquy, with aid from Jason Lyons' lighting as well as Sten Severson and David Thomas' audio, darkly showcases the personality change of Macbeth. However, there are times when Cake's acting is too broad. He occasionally shouts dialogue for no apparent reason. Perhaps the yelling signifies Macbeth's declining mental health. Still, he could scale back in order to make an even bigger dramatic impact.
Even with bloody savagery and cryptic atmosphere, Kulick almost seems too nervous to craft an uncomfortable rendition. After intermission, large chunks exist where laughter seems to be the intended way to address various atrocities. Effective suspense is used by the time the climax is set up. Unfortunately, there are too many instances prior that lack the amount of anxiety contained in the conclusion.
Because of the added visual jokes and calculated humorous relationship between the main married couple, this Macbeth is not as devastating as it could be. If these elements are lessened or tweaked as the run goes on, it will result in a fiercer and rawer evening.
The Old Globe presents Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, through July 24, 2016. Performs Sundays through Saturdays at 1363 Old Globe Way. Tickets start at $29.00 and can be purchased online at www.theoldglobe.org or by phone at 1-619-234-5623.