Kate Roxburgh is a fairly slight actress to essay the role of Macbeth, but there is strength in there. A military victor, Roxburgh's Macbeth is young and full of promise. And when Macbeth comes to his senses and decides not to go ahead with the plot to kill the king ("If it were done ..."), Roxburgh is solidly resolute. Roxburgh's Macbeth then makes the pitiable journey to reluctant murderer, then takes the barely perceptible step to becoming an eager one. No wonder that it is the murder of Banquo that haunts Macbeth more than the murder of Duncan - the murder of Banquo was his and his alone - and Roxburgh's transition from a basically moral man into a brutal, casual killer is frightening for its ease.
Which brings us to Gavin McClure and his Lady Macbeth. In theory, there's certainly nothing wrong with doing a gender-bent Macbeth. Men have been playing Shakespeare's women from the start, and women in men's roles are nothing new to those familiar with Wolpe's L.A. Women's Shakespeare Company. Here's the problem: We can believe Wolpe as a man; we can accept Roxburgh as a man; but McClure's Lady Macbeth is a guy in a dress. Wolpe does her best to direct around his height; although McClure dwarfs the others, he is rarely standing at full stature, and his Lady Macbeth kneels before her king, often bending her forehead forward to touch that of her husband. But Lady Macbeth's costume - a formless dress that hangs to McClure's ankles, revealing clunky heeled boots, accompanied by an unflattering straight black wig - does nothing to make McClure look the least bit feminine. There's no reason Lady Macbeth can't be a statuesque beauty, who towers over her husband in height as well as spirit, but it's very hard to see past the drag here.
McClure tries to play female, but really only succeeds at the end, when Lady Macbeth's crimes catch up with her. McClure's voice goes very soft as Lady Macbeth loses her grip on reality (indeed, Edwin Roxburgh's creepy score should be toned down a bit here, so as not to overwhelm), and McClure's understated performance here is some of his best work. But in Lady Macbeth's earlier scenes, there's a bit too much posturing and gesturing as a woman, rather than simply being one.
Wolpe's adaptation is a clean one, with a clear linear structure being revealed in the condensed script. The play is reset in war-torn Iraq; the reason for this becomes apparent near the end of the play, and the modern setting allows Macbeth and Macduff to go at each other with martial arts and military knives, which is a bonus from a fight choreography point of view. Of course, certain liberties are taken with the text - characters are omitted, others are combined, and Satan himself makes an appearance. The play opens not with three witches making their plans, but with demonic spirits reviving Macbeth's corpse on the battlefield. "A drum! A drum! Macbeth doth come!" receives a truly unique interpretation, as it refers now to the sound of Macbeth's reanimated heart. Purists may complain, but replacing Hecate and the witches with something a bit more darkly terrifying to modern audiences is true to the spirit of the piece, and can only add to this study of the forces that can compel decent men to do evil.
Macbeth3 runs at The Ruby Theater @ The Complex, in Hollywood through June 15, 2008.
The Dogsbody & L.A. Women's Shakespeare Company present Macbeth3. Adapted from William Shakespeare's Macbeth by Lisa Wolpe. Director/Co-Producer Lisa Wolpe. Co-Producer Kate Roxburgh; Assistant Director/Text Coach Natsuko Ohama; Fight Choreographer Edgar Landa; Composer Edwin Roxburgh; Production Stage Manager Rachel Myles; Assistant Stage Manager Gintaras ‘Gint' Gedaudas; Scenic Design Mia Torres; Lighting Design Maura McGuinness; Sound Design Rachel Myles; Make-up & Hair Design mary trahey; Costume Design Consultant Anette Hackmann; Graphic Design Gavin McClure; Publicity Sandy Smith at Larry Aldrich PR; Executive Producers for The Dogsbody Gavin McClure & Kate Roxburgh; Associate Producer for The Dogsbody Shae Kuehlmann; Producers for L.A. Women's Shakespeare Lisa Wolpe; Rachel Myles & Mia Torres.