Optimist Theatre’s richly textured “MacBeth”
Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy hits home, outdoors at Alverno College.
Public bravado and private shrinkage gradually neutralized each other in Tom Reed’s portrayal of MacBeth Friday evening. By the end of it, Shakespeare’s Scottish usurper had become the first existential burnt-out case.
Reed played the title role in the Optimist Theatre’s smart, entertaining outdoor staging, directed by Ron Scot Fry, at Alverno College. The denim-and-boots production needed no frills to tell the tale of hubris so great as to sever a couple from humanity and all moral constraint. Marti Gobel’s Lady MacBeth is not MacBeth’s Eve, but his serpent, tempting with eroticism and scolding with rapier thrusts into her husband’s manhood.
The show moves along; the fleet pace adds excitement and comes at no cost in legibility. Despite aircraft overhead and sirens down the block, the cast conveyed the words loud and clear. Lee Palmer’s spare percussion part made for more apt accompaniment and punctuation.
Gobel, in her first scene, could have taken just a few seconds more. We needed to see opportunity and resolution dawn on her face before we hear it in her soliloquy. Otherwise, she is fabulous in this meaty role. Her big, expressive features play well outdoors and allowed her to register emotions subtly; she alone in the cast underacted. By directorial design, actress’ choice or happy accident, the result was to set the play spinning around her. Gobel’s reserve set the stage for the sleepwalking scene — “out, damned spot!” — and made it all the more explosive and shocking. She also made the scene beautiful, in just the right way: Her graceful carriage and rich, elegant speaking voice clashed with the horrific content.
A very good ensemble orbits around the treacherous couple. Even minor characters with just a few lines have texture — this one was brighter, this one dimmer, this one more blindly loyal, that one has early doubts, and so on. I admired, for example, the way Timothy Linn’s body language changed ever so gradually to reflect the unspoken reservations that begin to chip at Banquo’s affection and admiration for MacBeth. I admired the intelligence in Michael Cotey’s face, as his Malcolm quickly sizes up his royal father’s assassination and decides to get out of Dodge.
Cotey and Andrew Voss, as MacDuff, were brilliant together when MacDuff travels to England to get Malcolm to return to Scotland and take on MacBeth. Malcolm, ever shrewd, contrives absurd tales to test MacDuff’s motives. Cotey shows Malcolm’s charm and amusement at MacDuff’s guileless honesty, and has a little fun with it. The gentle comedy of their interaction warms, rather than mocks, the scene. And it makes the following moment all the more devastating, when MacDuff hears that MacBeth’s assassins have murdered his wife and children.
The witches — Libby Amato, Kelly Doherty and Angel Mullen — provide comedy of the mocking sort. Fry arranges — almost choreographs — the witches to great effect. They are a trio, close-knit, interlocked and tending toward kittenish mutual affection. They delight not so much in wreaking havoc on humanity as in bringing out the human tendency toward havoc. In a nice touch at the end, Fleance (Mack Folkert), the son of Banquo, prophesied to be king, exchanges knowing looks with the witches even as the assembled nobles celebrate Malcolm’s installation.
James Pickering played Duncan and the Doctor — he’s helpless in the face of Lady MacBeth’s encroaching madness — very well. But my favorite role for him was the porter charged with answering the door when MacDuff pounds on it in the middle of the night. Pickering’s deft reading of Shakespeare’s comic relief was hilarious. I had forgotten that Shakespeare invented the knock-knock joke.
Remaining performances of the Optimist Theatre’s MacBeth begin at 8 p.m. June 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, and July 1. If you haven’t already reserved a seat, well, that’s a tragedy; all priority walk-in and reserved seats have been claimed. Here’s the drill to have a chance to get in: Optimist Theatre will first seat audience members who reserved seats. Next they will seat audience members who are on the Priority Walk-In Seating List in any unclaimed seats or available lawn seating. Any unfilled seats or lawn space still remaining after those two groups are checked in is then offered to audience members trying for General Walk-In Seating. Email Susan Scot Fry at SSFry@OptimistTheatre.org or call 262-498-5777 with any question.