Now that the world is so thoroughly immersed in widening conflicts in the Middle East, isn't it time to reestablish the quaint old tradition of displaying your enemy's head on a pike? Oh sure, we have the modern version, like the close-up photos of dead bad guy al-Zarqawi, but those were carefully matted and framed in gold. Nothing quite communicates a bloodlust for vengeance like jamming your defeated foe's skull on a pointed stick.
Shakespeare knew that, which is why there's at least one such cranial display in Macbeth, the gory tragedy that is now creating apparitions at the lagoon stage at Stan Hywet Hall. Using an original stone structure as part of the playing area, this production by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival is a treat for the eyes, but otherwise only moderately successful.
The story of a good man gone totally off the rails in a sociopathic pursuit of power is familiar to all -- as are many of the speeches, such as Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow . . ." soliloquy on the vicissitudes of life. So the challenge for any production company is to jolt the proceedings to life, one way or another.
To his credit, director and OSF co-founder Terry Burgler usually shuns gimmicky interpretations, preferring to extract the beauty of Will's creations through the flow and crackle of the words themselves. To do this, he needs a cast capable of animating these storied characters, and that is where this Macbeth stumbles a bit.
Jason Marr and Joy Marr, the married couple who took the lead roles in the preceding OSF production, Much Ado About Nothing, are back again as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Understandably, they appear comfortable with each other onstage, but this doesn't help build the tension between these two malevolent murderers.
Individually, Jason captures the smooth nobility of Macbeth early on, and his delivery is crisp and accessible. But his later descent into madness feels oddly distanced, as if he's watching a close friend fall apart and not experiencing it himself. Joy contributes an intelligent but flat reading of Lady Mac, which is not helped by her inability to employ tonal depth in her speeches. Someone simply must introduce her to her diaphragm.
Although no Macbeth can truly soar without a vibrant Mr. and Mrs. Mac, the secondary players create some stellar moments. Vernon Morris is a hoot as the drunken porter, fancying himself as the doorman to hell. In a brief scene, Lara Mielcarek as Lady Macduff registers a mother's fear and courage before her family is dispatched. And Andrew Cruse is strong as soon-to-be-King Malcolm, particularly when he urges Macduff to avenge his family's slaughter: "Be this the whetstone of your sword. Let grief convert to anger."
Quibbles aside, Stan Hywet is an enthralling venue for Shakespeare -- complete with towering evergreens, wooded pathways, and the croak of contented bullfrogs. It deserves to be a part of everyone's summer.
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