Also see Sharon's review of 13
A small cast of ten, playing thirty or so roles in Shakespeare's short and bloody tragedy, carried on with the play without any acknowledgement of these problems whatsoever - except by Patrice Quinn, who had the good sense to have her Lady Macbeth react to the loud noises as though they were the ghosts of her crimes come to wreak revenge. Indeed, Quinn's performance is the best of the lot, although she has some stiff competition. Quinn's Lady Macbeth is a study in the art; so completely has Quinn established a through line for her character that her scenes on stage come off as brief glimpses into a story that is clearly continuing when the play's action is someplace else. Her Lady Macbeth isn't a screechy domineering woman, aiming to get more and more power by instilling her husband as King at any cost. Instead, she's a good person who, when she learns of the prophecy that Macbeth will be King, truly believes that he will be excellent at it, and decides, with her eyes truly open, that she will have to do some evil to achieve this laudable goal. Quinn actually finds something sympathetic in a woman who suggests that her husband kill a King, and this production is much better for it.
The murderous husband in question is played by Harry Lennix (who you may remember from his notable turn as Aaron the Moor in Julie Taymor's film Titus). Lennix doesn't give his Macbeth quite the clear linear evolution as Quinn gives his missus. Indeed, at the start, his performance seems to be a series of monologues, well delivered, to be sure, but which lack subtext or a real connection to the overall whole. But once Macbeth actually commits regicide and his sanity starts to unravel, Lennix is well in command of Macbeth's descent into madness and paranoid tyranny.
There's some solid supporting work here, too, particularly by Erica Tazel as the mystical Weird Sister (with the small cast, there's only one) and Peter Macon as the regal Duncan. Director Steve Marvel gives his cast many lengthy fight scenes, and the men hack at each other with heavy swords (Tazel even gets into the action, as Young Siward, near the end of the play). Lamont Thompson is most impressive in Banquo's final fight, powerfully working a sword in each hand in a way that would make Darth Maul proud.
There are, however, some unusual directorial choices at work here. When the Porter appears, actor Geno Monteiro gives him an accent, when everyone else is speaking in normal speech. As the Porter is a bit of comic relief, the opening night audience then picked up on the idea of characters using accents as meaning they were intended to be funny. This was reinforced when the Murderers did it, as they were also played for laughs. But when, in later scenes, some of the actors put on accents in order to distinguish their characters from other roles they'd played, the audience laughed, even though there wasn't anything particularly funny going on. An accent coming from a subsidiary and non-comic character earlier in the play might have solved this problem.
There is also something of an opportunity wasted. The production is cast with an all-black ensemble and set in what the Director's Note calls "a time-condensed world." But there's really nothing to it. The actors are in costumes suggestive of the period; the set - with the exception of one low, graffiti-covered wall - could be anywhere. The Director's Note promises that "the issue of race is central to the production," but the promised theme never really emerges. It just seems like a bunch of actors, some good, some less so, who happen to be black, doing a straightforward, somewhat minimalist production of Macbeth.
Macbeth continues at the Lillian Theatre through February 4. For tickets, see plays411.com.
Blue Panthers Inc. Presents William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Directed by Steve Marvel; Assistant Director Dwain Perry. Production Design Emily Phillips; Costume Design Naila Saunders; Stage Manager Sammy Wayne; Assistant Stage Manager Craig Derrick; Illustrator Lyndon Barrois; Sound Design Todd Cochran; Photography Dennis Kent; Master Carpenter Eric Nolfo; Prop Design Robyn Talor; Lighting Design Angeline Summers-Marvel; Production Coordinator Albena Dodeva; PR Phil Sokolov; Executive Producer Lamont Thompson; Producer Harry Lennix; Associate Producers Blue Panters, Inc., Nick Gillie, Karl Calhoun, Amad Jackson.