Sunday, May 21, 2017

The People's Macbeth at Desert Stages

by Jennifer Haaland

Many a Shakespeare production with opulent castle sets, elaborate woods and ghostly special-effects extol Macbeth as a tale of power and greed. But not so at Desert Stages in their current Actors' Cafe production. They keep it transparently plain and simple.

This Macbeth (Rick Davis) and his Lady (Virginia Olivieri), along with strong members in the supporting cast tell the story that today's audience needs most to hear. This iteration is neither a tired nor clever morality depiction of the consequences of sin and evil. In a most artful, basic and believable way, the Scottsdale audience watched fellow humans fall apart. That's what happens when our wills try to act against our hard-wired brains.

The fallacy to which humans throughout history cling – that we can outsmart our own brains - has snuffed out lives at an alarming rate, just as it does in Macbeth.  Crowns off to director Gary Zaro for making this classic tragedy so simply human and accessible.

We see it in Lady Macbeth's smirk and body posture. She is so certain she has cheated the devil. Throughout Act I, though a murderess, Olivieri seemed a convincingly bullet proof soul, even daring to humiliate her 'cowardly' husband and king. That her queen's brain used subconscious dreams to trap her was a sickening, colossal portrayal on Olivieri's part. We saw in painful detail how brainpower can cripple the stoutest determination during her dream sequence of Act II.

Davis has created a homicidal Macbeth with thinner albeit scarier skin. His greatest gift to the role was the frightening brand of funny his wit and tone interjected as Macbeth descended evermore swiftly into madness.

Try though he might to will away his heinous deeds, his brain won't allow it.  In a fitting technical touch, the lighting washed him a bloody red while he was outwardly hip deep in denial. And who wouldn't flinch with disbelieving terror like Davis' from how real his hallucinations of slain Banquo seemed?

Banquo's ghost, and his living character, bring us to the sane, supporting characters that contrasted perfectly the crazy-mad Macbeth duo.  Both Banquo (Jason Barth) and Macduff  (Bryan Stewart) aren't so much pure and perfect characters as they are characters whose wills align with their brains' core stances.

Barth allowed his Banquo to get curiously excited about his potential fame and riches, but we also saw how his genuine paternal instincts and cautious fear kept his will operating in accordance with his brain.  Likewise, Stewart's good-hearted Macduff displayed genuine rage and heartbreak---close enough to touch in the intimate little Dakota Stage theatre setting--upon hearing of his family's slaughter.  Both his will and instinctual brain were wired to agree that revenge was an appropriate response.

So, if we've interpreted or been taught to believe Macbeth is another tale of power-crazed greed seeking royalty and fame, what happens if it's not?  What if, plain and simple, it's a tragedy that depicts multiple faces of madness?

If so, then before Macbeth and his betrothed displayed madness with honest human frailty, the Weird Sisters warmed us up to the crazy theme Saturday night. With their bubbling toil and trouble, they provided the icky kind of possessed crazy we see in horror films.  The wordplays of their eerie predictions were beautifully emphasized by a single bare-branched tree gobo that lit the center stage backdrop.

For the aficionado, Shakespeare's word play throughout was both stinging and delightful in good measure. Extra kudos are due J Kevin Tallent as the hungover Porter. His monologue was pure language candy, perfectly on target for the desperately needed comic relief.

The language issue that worries some would-be patrons melted away at Desert Stages. Even if the meter or foreign phrases weren't immediately digestible, there was no mistaking the meaning of these actors' expressions, inflections and movements.

So the story of Macbeth, in layer upon layer, could well be that madness is what happens when our brain won't let go of something we are consciously trying to conceal or forget.  That's what this production screws to a sticking place.  In fact, maybe the whole point is you don't need to love Shakespeare to need to see this play.

This tale of madness is timeless. Macbeth. The way it's supposed to be.

CLICK HERE for more information on this production, which runs through June 4th

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