Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Moti Margolin as Macbeth and Caitlin Large as Lady Macbeth
Photo by Katie

Shakespeare's MACBETH oozes a miasma of blood, murder, greed, ambition, revenge, madness and witchcraft. And an evil marriage. No wonder that even saying the name "Macbeth" superstitiously evokes bad luck and even disaster:

To be successful, the whole acting company must embrace the darkness of evil... and court disaster. To attempt to avoid this fate by creating a comfortable environment for the players and the audience guarantees a pallid, failed presentation: MACBETH has dashed many a celebrity actor's hopes of a brilliant Shakespearean career.

The Frog And Peach Company, a young and independent company, promises a new approach to Shakespeare.

A young company, with a vigorous, modern approach to Shakespeare could bring new power and fresh insight to this most powerful drama.

In one scene, the production succeeds. Macbeth emerges from the murder of Duncan naked and slathered in blood, under dim lighting that evokes the blackness of murder. But he has not completed the assassination as it was planned. Lady Macbeth strips off her night clothes, enters the king's chamber and finishes the job, emerging naked and bloody in the dark night.

In this one scene, the director, Lynnea Benton, with Moti Margolin as Macbeth, and Caitlin Large as Lady Macbeth, produce a powerful moment of the play as it could be.

Unfortunately, not much of the rest of the play lives up to this moment. With the exception of Kevin G. Shinnick as Duncan, the king, Todd Butera as Macduff, and Amy Francis Quint as Lady Macduff (in one of the production's best scenes), few of the performers convey the beauty of Shakespeare's language. (Ah! In their most successful moment, with our attention concentrated on the visuals, we are not listening closely to how Macbeth and his Lady are speaking.)

Also interesting is the attention given to the witches. They are the driving force in the play. The wyrd sisters (the anglo-saxon word "wyrd" means fate) foretell all the major events. And they are given special prominence in this production. Although they are strongly portrayed, however, they are not convincingly menacing. The witches' brew scene is stylized and unreal, and a (should-be ???)seductive (???) scene with Hecate (???) (normally a woman, but here played confusingly by a man) is vamped rather than sexualized.

Several choices make the production somewhat confusing: Hecate is "disguised as Seyton, a Porter" which makes for confusing doubling. The actor that plays Duncan the king, later doubles as his own cousin, and one of the (female) witches doubles as a young boy. Doubling (unless it clearly illustrates an illuminating association between two characters) always has the potential to be confusing.

The names Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Macbeth, Macduff, and the shifting alliances can be very confusing. The costumes could and should, but do not help alleviate confusion. They are disorganized and mostly ugly. (King Duncan's outfit looks like a parody of something a British espionage agent might wear in a pre-WW2 spy movie. And his crown looks like it came from a "princess kit" at a toy store.) Good costumes (even simply co-ordinated outfits in a zero-budget production) should be used to help sort out the factions, and within factions help sort out the rank of the characters.

Similarly, the fight sequences are ambitiously staged by Ian Marshall, but somewhat tentatively executed, and made confusing by the fact that it's impossible to tell who is who. (The first fight scene occurs before we know the characters. And there is no costume-cueing to sort out what armies are fighting, or to distinguish the generals from the soldiers on the battle field.)

The slogan on the Frog and Peach website reads:

"MACBETH, one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies, and FROG & PEACH delivers the goods with all the excitement, humor and grown-up fun audiences have come to expect."

When you try to create a "fun Macbeth," instead of a tragic hero, you get an oxymoron.

But in the best scenes, Lynnea Benson demonstrates that Frog and Peach is capable of producing excitement, humor, and grown-up fun. I'm looking forward to other work by this company. They've got promise, verve, energy, and ambition.

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