Theater Review

At Shakespeare & Company, 'Macbeth' beats with a heart of darkness

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LENOX — For her debut at Shakespeare & Company, director Melia Bensussen has stripped William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" to its essence and found its heart of darkness.

Scenes have been cut; the roster of characters trimmed to roughly 11, played by a cast of nine. The texture is at once spare and full; muscular and propulsive.

Gone are the witches, save for Hecate (Zoe Laiz), a spectral presence who prowls the depth, width and height of the radically redesigned, imaginatively reconceived playing space inside Shakespeare & Company's mainstage Tina Packer Playhouse. But while the full trio of witches is not physically present, their voices echo through Hecate and in the ether and ghostly figures of others — Macbeth's victims; his own conscience as it wrestles with the consequences of his willingly embraced, brutally acted upon ambition.

Bensussen and her company have set out to explore the interior landscape of a mind, two minds, actually, Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's, that have been abandoned by their better angels. Tod Randolph's vigorous, thoughtfully played Lady Macbeth is quick to seize an opportunity when she sees it. The arrival of King Duncan (a convincing Nigel Gore) for an overnight stay at the Macbeths' castle to reward Macbeth for his loyalty and skill in battle is too good an opportunity to pass up. Lady Macbeth seizes on it and Jonathan Croy's two-dimensional Macbeth is only too willing and ready to follow. As rendered by Croy in a technically proficient performance, Macbeth's hesitation before going in whole hog with his wife's scheme to begin clearing the path for his predicted ascension to the throne of Scotland is more a product of rational consideration than fear or caution. It's as if Macbeth's moral deterioration already is under way; attracted to the voices that are forecasting his eventual ascension to title and the crown. It's in for a penny, in for a pound. It is not until they are struck by the bloody reality of what they have begun that the psychological dominoes begin to fall.

Blood is not alien to Macbeth. He is a soldier, a warrior. Methodically plotted murder is not something he's ever done off the battlefield until now and his conscience rebels. But the blood from the slain Duncan's body and the two guards sleeping by him stains Lady Macbeth in indelible ways. She is at first strong, resolved, a mistress of deceit and obfuscation. Eventually, Randolph's strong, steady Lady Macbeth becomes undone; distracted. One hand rubs the other in an attempt to wipe away the blood, the guilt, the ownership of an evil act.

Croy's Macbeth charts his own course to ruin — hearing voices that drive him on; that prick his guilt; that cause him to see visions, the slain Banquo (Ella Loudon in a compelling, thoroughly persuasive portrayal) at his banquet table, that others around him don't see. In this setting, the witches' forecasts are as much Macbeth's own ambition driving him on; his visions, the manifestations of his guilt, his conscience. The only way to drown those voices is with more violence. His moral depravity is completed with the murder of the exiled Macduff's exposed and vulnerable wife and children. Until his own reckoning in a fateful one-on-one battle with Macduff, Macbeth unleashes a brutal and punishing regime which, when it comes to those who oppose him, takes no prisoners..

"Bleed, bleed, poor country," the voluntarily exiled Macduff (an acceptable Thomas Brazzle) says to Duncan's son, Malcolm (an eager and earnest Deaon Griffin-Pressley), who has come to England to secure Macduff's active support in overthrowing Macbeth, and to raise an army.

"I think our country sinks beneath the yoke. It weeps," Malcolm says; "it bleeds; and each new day a gash is added to her wounds."

Shakespeare has set "Macbeth" in Scotland. Bensussen has moved "Macbeth" into a pitch-black limbo that suggests mid-19th century America and a setting more primitive and foreign. Moral depravity knows no boundary of time or space or place.


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