Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

The Vortex Theatre

Also see Dean's review of Carousel and Lauren's review of The Golden Age of Radio

Ryan Jason Cook and Aleah Montano
Photo by Alan Mitchell
Macbeth has always been and perhaps always will be, in my mind, the most memorable and affecting of Shakespeare's masterpieces. The tragic plot invokes in us the plight of our humanity as we struggle with and against fate and destiny. The ambiguity between our free will and a determined outcome is cast before us as we watch a terribly frustrating and sympathetic character become the driving force to his own destruction. We, at the beginning, know the outcome and yet we still watch in horror as we continue to hope in the face of sure defeat. We are left wondering if it wouldn't have been better for the protagonist to have hid in a cave and tried with all his might to escape his fate. We know this story too in the life of Oedipus, King of Thebes. Fate is never defeated or escaped. So, instead of fleeing his fate, Shakespeare has his hero, Macbeth, fly forward to make it happen: glorying in the reward (being crowned King) and violently resisting the failure (no promised lineage or dynasty). The story is one with a world of depth of meaning and, therefore, to take on Macbeth is to take on a very serious, challenging, and exacting task. And so I ask: does the Vortex's final production in their Shakespeare summer festival Will Power 4 do justice?

Admittedly, I am usually very hesitant about seeing Shakespeare on stage: I would rather read it. I took a chance on The Vortex and am left feeling a little dissatisfied. Shakespeare is hard, hard work. The language, being undisputedly one of Shakespeare's defining powers easily becomes the hardest obstacle to overcome for performers. Overall, with a few exceptions I will touch on, I had a very hard time understanding the gorgeous lines as they were performed. The actors hardly give meaning or definition to the poetry that Shakespeare wrote. There are moments where it shines through, but these times are few and far between.

The strength in this show lies in a few of its committed actors; commitment, in this show, becomes the bar to which I hold the actors' performances. Fortunately for the audience, the most committed of all is the leading man. Ryan Jason Cook is a powerful force on stage. His performance is most interesting, as he wields himself in and through the ups and downs of his tormented and maddening Macbeth. He freely hovers upon the delirium and overwhelming emotions of Macbeth, and I respect his choices, though they come a tad close to overacting. His performance at least catches the attention and he is (mostly) understandable. His cohort in crime, Lady Macbeth, played by Aleah Montano, is equally as committed to a character, though she ought to match, in a way, the energy of her husband in her character. I will say, though, the infamous "bloody hands" scene is right on.

The performance that I enjoyed the most was that of Nic Ganjei as Macduff. His acting is superb, far above the rest. The only other actress that intrigued me was Sara Escobedo, who plays a dual role of both Witch 2 and the Gentlewoman. She saves the Witch scenes for me. The roles of Malcolm (Dane Hjeresen), Fleance (Daniel Vigil), Banquo (Ed Chavez), Donalbain (Simon Arnet), Ross (Efrain Villa), and the Porter (Eddie Dethlefs) are acted well enough. Dane Hjeresen grew in prominence, in my mind, toward the end as an actor I wished to see more of. Ed Chavez plays a noble and likable Banquo. Many of the other characters enter and exit the stage almost without much interest to anyone. The biggest disappointment is when some of the actors break character or seemingly lose interest in their scenes. It is frustrating to watch them lose their concentration and make quick glances at the audience. Reciting with inflection, rather than acting their lines, is another noticeable occurrence and it was at these times that I wished for the scene to just end. The witch scenes in particular, for example, fell flat with me.

This brings me to the overall production. There seems to be a large amount of incongruity and inconsistency. Facets of the production seem imbalanced and I felt unsure as to the blocking, lighting, sound effects, and set. Honestly, you do the best with what you have. The Vortex is a small theatre and there isn't much room for the actors to move around in. Macbeth feels somewhat restrained and hindered in such a place. The production is minimalistic in nature as regards props and sets, which is acceptable, efficacious even given the small space, but what is inexplicable is the ambiguity of any and all entrances and exits which the actors, excluding Cook and Montano, make. It feels flippantly directed and I was lost most of the time when anyone came or went. I don't think the casting, with said exceptions, is particularly strong either. I just wish there were some level of agreement of vision, energy, commitment and direction. The costumes are the only on-set creation which made me feel like the actors were in medieval Scotland. They carry the role of transporting us to a different time and place. Kudos to Starr Edwell for her designs.

As to the original question I asked: Does the Vortex's production do justice to Shakespeare's haunting script? I would say, "Yes," but it comes uncomfortably close to being a total wreck. I expect more out of Vortex. Claiming to be one of the "foundation pillars of the scene" (Preston Mendenhall, Executive Producer of Will Power 4) here in Albuquerque, I think the Vortex has shown a weak spot with Macbeth. I hope that in future Shakespeare festivals the Vortex comes with its A-game for every show.

Coming out of this production, I am glad that I saw it, even with its problems. Any Shakespeare production is worth the risk involved. I am a firm believer in forming one's own opinions, and encourage all to see it for themselves. This being the final production in the Vortex's summer Shakespeare festival, tickets are found at their website The show runs through August 4, shows Thursday through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday showtimes at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $12-$18.

--Caleb Scales

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