Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Ben Ritchie, long the king of understatement on local stages, starts off quietly enough here in the title role under the direction of Suki Peters. But by the time Banquo's ghost has come and gone, Mr. Ritchie has created a swashbuckling performance with increasingly fiery rages, and even some unexpected acrobatics. And (when a "dagger" appears before him) his rock-solid powers of credibility and understatement come in pretty handy, too. Well played, Mr. Ritchie; you caught me completely by surprise.
But as I sat there before the show, considering the prospect of a chilly, Bergmanesque Scot, I was greatly relieved to see Michelle Hand would be playing his Lady Macbeth. She's always great, and when the moment came, I even stopped taking notes to just to soak-up her mesmerizing nightmare scene, as the actress silently, hypnotically washed her guilty hands.
This Macbeth has an almost Coen brothers (or Tarantino-esque) character-wit to it, in which Macduff transforms into a near-superhero: a fearsome vixen (Maggie Wininger) in skin-tight, black fighting gear and blood red heels (costumes by JC Krajicek). And then there's a sort of background character (Dustin Allison as Lennox) who unselfconsciously munches snacks throughout his scenes, adding a strange, funny directorial flourish to the usual expositionand one which keeps the play's feet firmly planted on the (dangerously shifting) ground.
The witches come and go in seeming meekness in servants' guises, which adds a dose of almost invisible fiendishness. And when they're alone in the forest, they have a fantastic "disappearance" after their first scene with Macbeth. Chuck Brinkley turns the Porter's speech into a very nice series of "knock-knock" jokes. And much later, Hecate (Wendy Farmer), in her fury, is operatically splendid towering over it all, smashing forest demons like ninepins.
But of course it all hangs on the relationships. And those are beautifully handled and fleshed out under Ms. Peters' direction: Macbeth's ties to Banquo (Maxwell Knocke) heighten the eventual anguish of the latter's murder; and perhaps most importantly, this Lady Macbeth (Ms. Hand) is so close to her husband that she never has to resort to Shatnerian madness to push him forward and, needless to say, off the edge.
It's a show that's usually produced once or twice a year, because it's so goodwags will say it's a crowd pleaser, for all the blood and madness. Historians tell us it became a "cursed" play because (time and again) it was the last-ditch, sure-fire hit any failing theater company could put on for very little money, just as it was all crashing down for them. But even today, critics have been known to groan in dismay on their way to The Scottish Play, just out of repetition.
And yet it's never the same show twicesometimes it's tricked-up beyond recognition with special effects, and sometimes it's stripped-down to just three people in the park, running around frantically, focusing entirely on the great words and action. This newest Macbeth is visually interesting and aurally inspired; right down the middle for production values; surprisingly creative in some great new ways; and boasting an unexpectedly stylish leading man.
Through October 16, 2016, at the Ivory Theater, 7620 Michigan Ave. For more information visit www.stlshakespeare.org.
Cast (in order of appearance)
Artistic and Technical Personnel