Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Macbeth (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I'm going to pontificate  here a bit. Well, no suprise there! I've seen a little less than a dozen Macbeths over the years, and have reached some conclusions. Mainly about how unusual a play it really is, compared to the rest of Shakespeare's canon. Of all his major works, this one wins as the shortest. It feels weird, the language having an odd cadence, and the feel of a brutal time (in this it somewhat resembles King Lear). It shows the supernatural interfering with human events out of malice, in a way that seems almost startlingly pagan.

It also has very nearly the only happy marriage in all of Shakespeare. Not that the Thane of Glamis (Amir Khalighi) and his bride (Melissa Kite) remain that way, but for the first third at least they come across as a passionate couple, one wed for years who depend upon one another.

Credit: ZJU
This is among many things they lose when the Witches (Arielle Davidson, Jenny Gustavsson, Angela Robitaille) utter those glimpses into the future--The Thane of Glamis shall be Thane of Cawdor and then, eventually, King of Scotland. His companion Banquo (Brian Felson) receives a similar prophecy, that his line will bring forth Kings. But he pays it little mind. "Happier" the Witches call him. One wonders if his indifference to their words might be what they mean...

Not that they would ever admit it.

Frankly, most productions of this play seem to trip over the plot or the eerie, savage world of the story. Nearly all of them seek to make a clear cut decision about the Macbeth marriage but try to keep the Witches mysterious--even to themselves! While I might niggle here and there about some details of the production, this Macbeth avoids the traps. Many kudos for that! This Macbeth is all fury and emotion, almost bipolar in his rages and fears and doubts then sudden sadnesses. This Lady Macbeth is the tempering power in their relationship, the focus and devotion sheethed in a soul of steel.

Until the murder of their king, whereupon you can see something in them fray and snap.

Credit: ZJU
A besetting problem in so many Shakespeare productions is often unimpressive performers in the supporting roles. Cannot tell you how thrilling it is when--as here--the opposite happens! Rather, the likes of Jonica Patella (one of the finest local actresses I know) and Mark Hein as well as Jason Britt fill in for the various parts. I've seen all these do wonderful work, but Hilary Freedman is new to me and performed with great skill in her handful of roles (including Lady Macduff). Another newcommer (to me) was Chandler Hudson as Prince Malcolm.

The ensemble here did wonders, creating with their voices and bodies the weird, dark world of this play. Its eerie story of two souls destroying themselves felt much like a roller coaster, which made the end all that much more effective. Not a crowing triumph by enemies of the hated tyrant, but a satisfied gloat by the three Weird Sisters, speculatively looking at the survivors as a spider might gaze a group of flies.

Macbeth plays Fridays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 7pm through May 31, 2015 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo sign, across the street from KFC) North Hollywood Ca 91601. You can make reservations at 818-202-4120 or by visiting

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