Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mobile Shakespeare Unit's Macbeth

Last night, I saw the first performance of Macbeth performed by The Public Theater's Mobile Shakespeare Unit. Though the production might still need to iron out a few kinks as it tours the city, bringing Shakespeare to audiences throughout the boroughs, this is definitely a version you want to see.

Why? Primarily Rob Campbell. He plays the noble thane like I've never seen it before, which is not necessarily a compliment, but in this case, a unique take on the character pays off, ultimately giving the audience greater insight into one of drama's greatest tragic villains. In his first appearances, Campbell already looks haggard, and not just because he's recently fought a battle. There is a world-weariness about him that only increases as the play gets bloodier and bloodier.

Like many of the actors in this production, Campbell is an old hand at the Public. Last summer, he appeared in King Lear in Central Park, and he has also been in the Public's productions of As You Like It, Measure for Measure, and Titus Andronicus. Even though his face might be familiar, though, there is a strangeness to his performance as Macbeth, an other-worldliness that I found quite unexpected.

In order to indicate that a character is speaking directly to the audience and not to the other people on stage, this production rings a small bell to mark the beginning and ending of a soliloquy. However, these private moments do not always occur where we think they will. For instance, when Macbeth re-enters a crowded room after everyone has just discovered the murder of Duncan, he says:

Had I but died an hour before this chance,
I had lived a blessed time; for from this instant
There's nothing serious in mortality...

Usually, this is played to the other people in the room. Macbeth is acting for them, showing a false grief for the murder of the king, even though he himself is the murderer. In this production, however, the speech is set apart by the bells and delivered directly to the audience. Macbeth is wishing not that he had never seen the sight of a murdered king, but that he had died before he had committed the murder. Now that he has such a heavy sin upon his conscience, he will never know blessedness again.

Campbell is best when he has these private moments with the audience. His Macbeth is uncomfortable with other people, even with his own wife. Only when he is alone do we glimpse his true nature. Perhaps the most moving part of the play was when, after hearing his wife cry out, Macbeth honestly remarks to himself:

I have almost forgot the taste of fears.
The time has been, my senses would have cooled
To hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in't. I have supped full of horrors.
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,
Cannot once start me.

This is a Macbeth trapped by his own evil, a man to be pitied as well as feared.

Edward Torres, who famously directed the premieres of The Happiest Song Plays Last and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, helmed this production, assembling quite a cast of supporting actors. Jennifer Ikeda, another regular with the Public, plays Lady Macbeth, a role which frequently outshines the title character. Much like the case of last summer's Macbeth at the Armory, though, this Lady Macbeth remains in the shadow of her husband.

Once again, however, I found myself impressed by the role of Lady Macduff, this time played by Nicole Lewis. Though the part is rather brief, Lewis makes the most of it, conveying a sense of anxiety, and then terror, as death closes in around her own home. As her husband, Daniel Pearce is moving in his grief and terrifyingly righteous in his revenge.

The play's sparse set, designed by Wilson Chin, consists of three trunks on a square carpet. The cast moves the trunks around skillfully, and one of them is memorably used by Nick Mills as the hysterically funny Porter. Composer Michael Thurber, who provided music for the Mobile Shakespeare Unit's lovely production of Pericles last year, provides a haunting soundscape that sets the mood for a very different play than last year's.

If you're interested in seeing this production (and you should be), check out the Public Theater's website:

The Public Theater's Mobile Shakespeare Unit