Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Gloria
During Puritan rule from 1642-1660, theaters in England were closed, but when King Charles II took the throne, drama returned to popularity, featuring novelties such as women onstage, elaborate scenery, music and spectacle. When Sir William Davenant, head of one of two theater companies chartered by the king, adapted Shakespeare's grim story of murderous ambition to suit Restoration tastes, he kept the basics of the plot but made a few changes. Most notably, he made the virtuous Macduff and Lady Macduff almost as prominent as the corrupted Macbeth and Lady Macbeththe Macduffs even encounter the three witches in the forestand puffed up the roles of the witches by giving them musical interludes.
To complicate matters, director Robert Richmond has set the action in 17th-century Bedlam, the notorious London madhouse, in the manner of Marat/Sade. Tony Cisek's scenic design borders the main playing area with grim locked cells, with grimy muslin curtains serving to mark the end of scenes. Andrew F. Griffin's lighting design stays within the boundaries of the period, focusing on candelabras, lanterns, and unadorned overhead lights.
The manager of the asylum (Louis Butelli, who later plays Duncan) rousts inmates from their cells, giving them scraps of costumes (Mariah Anzaldo Hale designed the look of rags mixed with tartan sashes) and pushing them to perform. Six talented musicians of the Folger Consort provide live, period-appropriate accompaniment from an upstage balcony.
How, then, is the performance? Ian Merrill Peakes (Macbeth) and Kate Eastwood Norris (Lady Macbeth) played the roles in a traditional production at the Folger in 2008, but while they both do a fine job here, the atmosphere takes precedence over their characterizations. Chris Genebach is an impassioned Macduff and Karen Peakes a resolute Lady Macduff, both making the most of their enlarged roles, and Rachael Montgomery, Emily Noël, and Ethan Watermeier play the witches with both grotesque makeup and rapturous singing voices.
On the other hand, some of Richmond's inspirations seem excessive. After being butchered in silhouette behind the cushion, poor Duncan never gets a chance to rest in peace; the witches use his bloodied, dead body as a prop as they sing, reanimating it at one point. More peculiarly, after Banquo (strong, trusting Andhy Mendez) is murdered, the witches capture his young son Fleance (Owen Peakes) and enchant him into some sort of half-bird creature before he manages to run offstage to grow up and father a line of Scottish kings.