Friday, May 5, 2017

Macbeth in Rhythm

Spoilers ahoy!

Imagine an empty black stage.  Audience on three sides.  No music as the audience members come in and take their seats, all chatting away and commenting on the day, who they know in the production, what else they’ve seen at this venue.  The usual.  Only slowly do they realize three women have entered into their view—emerging quietly to walk into the playing area.  Something about them instantly registered as “Other.”  Not just their slow, quiet gate but their unblinking eyes, oddly crouched postures, not the way their staffs never touched the floor.  In recognition of how the anything-but-mundane had entered their midsts, members of the audience fell silent.

With that silence, the lights shifted.  Stark shafts of illumination replaced the general glow of a normal room.

The ritual of Macbeth in Rhythm had begun, in silence and strange anticipation.  Obviously, the three are the Witches (Lindsey Moore Ford, Emmie Nagata, Danielle O’Terry) although in time these actors will also portray a variety of other parts, including Lady Macbeth, the drunken Porter (in the single funniest version of that I’ve ever seen) and Lady Macduff.   Just as the rest of the cast (Sam Breen, James Cowan, Ben Weaver) are the title character, and Banquo, Macduff, Young Macduff, King Duncan and others.  All flowing together in a blend of dance/movement, song,  recitation and drama.  Every single moment felt charged with energy, the many silences anything at all but empty.  I felt as if I were attending mass, or an exorcism, or maybe some ancient pagan ritual re-enacting myth.

 Perhaps all three.

Purists may well complain about Hannah Chodos’ direction, to break down and reinvent the text along very modern (albeit non-Naturalistic) theatrical styles.  I found the effect rather as if someone took a Sonnet, then somehow used it to create a Haiku.  Very beautiful, very moving in these eyes.  Others might complain it takes liberties, omitting scenes and characters, boiling down the story (as opposed to plot) into its most fundamental ingredients.  All true.  Yet I heard not a whisper of complaint on opening night, now felt a drop of disapproval from anyone.  We had all shared in the same performance, and felt ourselves altered.  We had entered the cave, tasted what it had to offer, and now emerged.

I could go on and on about the dozens of tiny wonderful ‘bits’ in the play.   Breathing used as sound effects.  Shadows by the cast cast out into the audience.  Giving individual characters power over the movements of others—sometimes shared, sometimes (frighteningly) unilateral.  Percussion of flesh on wood, on floor.  Simply tossing a prop turned into a dance that functions also as battle.

But it all emerges in service of STORY.  Of myth, which is what the story of this Scottish monarch has certainly become.  A tale of damnation, intended to haunt and warn but not lecture.  Here was no lesson to be learned, but an experience to be felt.

Macbeth in Rhythm is part of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ Year of Macbeth, and plays Friday May 5 at 8pm then Saturday May 6 at 2pm and again at 8pm at the Shakespeare Center 1238 West First Street, Los Angeles CA 90026.

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