By - Mar 5th, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Russ Bickerstaff


It’s a bombed-out brick wall that looks like it’s just barely survived some sort of apocalypse. There are sweetly sick trees dotting the stage. There’s a decaying playground merry-go-round over to the left. Civilized civilization has been here and left. What else could this be but Macbeth? Marjorie Bradley Kellogg sets the stage for Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production with a design meant to invoke an ambiguous contemporary era. The production design, a collaboration between Kellogg, Director Eleanor Holdridge and a few others, stands as one of the few modest innovations in an otherwise uncharacteristically unimpressive and disappointing production for Milwaukee Shakespeare.

The witches. It always starts with the witches, played here by Alison Mary Forbes, Laura Gray and Ted Dyson. Immensely clever sound design by Joshua Horvath wraps those first few moments of the first act in a feeling of decay. That isn’t static or distortion everyone’s hearing over the speakers . . . this is Milwaukee Shakespeare – they have some of the slickest productions seen on local stages, they would’ve worked out any problems with the sound system in tech rehearsals. No, that’s not static; it’s a sound reminiscent of the clicking of a Geiger counter. We’re in terribly diseased times here and Horvath brings the setting across with strikingly subtle clarity. In walk the three witches in rags . . . every bit as creepy and diseased as one would expect. Dyson is hardly visible beneath garb and makeup and mannerisms that transform him into an old crone. Laura Gray looks refined and faded in somewhat dated fashions . . . like she’d just walked out of an old photograph on decades-old newsprint that had turned yellow in a gutter somewhere. She’s got a deliciously disturbing poise about her. And then there’s the fresh-faced wholesomeness of Alison Mary Forbes, which costuming, makeup and lighting have bleached into sickly emaciation. The three double as excellent background décor. They’re post-apocalyptic scavengers who seem to take particular pleasure in making scene changes and the action moving.

Things settle down once the action takes hold. Relatively fresh from his performance as King Lear with the Rep earlier this year, Mark Corkins graces the stage for his second performance in the title role of a Shakespearian tragedy in a single season. Corkins is brash and gruff in the role of Macbeth with just the right amount of authentic fear peaking through from beneath it all. There something that doesn’t feel quite right about the way Corkins fills the role, however. At the risk of sounding overly critical (and downright pretentious), I preferred James DeVita’s performance in the title role of the American Players Theatre’s 2005 production. DeVita had the distinction of being both cold and vulnerable in the role of the tragic figure, making for a much more textured performance on the surface. Corkins’ vulnerability as Macbeth is much more subtle, making for an entirely different experience. Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production is everything one could expect from a well-funded theatre group with a cast consisting almost entirely of Equity actors. It’s a good, solid interpretation of the script, but lacks the spark of inspiration that made the APT’s 2005 production so captivating.

All fussing aside, I can’t stress enough that the little details make Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production worth seeing: the witches finish putting spell components into the cauldron and Forbes takes off a pair of latex gloves she was wearing for the procedure. Lady Macbeth (Carol Halstead) makes her first appearance onstage smoking a cigarette. And there’s nothing quite like seeing Corkins as Macbeth cracking open a can of beer in one of the character’s more confident moments. It’s a fun production. Too bad it wasn’t more inspired. VS

Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production of Macbeth runs now through March 11 at the Wilson Center. Tckets can be purchased by calling the box office at: 262-781-9520 or online at

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