By William Shakespeare
Adapted and directed by Lou Trapani
The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck
FROM THE OPENING gun blasts it is clear that this production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not going to be set in medieval Scotland. Or if it’s not clear then, by the time the punk-rockers and a flashlight appear on stage, you have received the message. But, thank goodness this is not one of those trendy re-settings of classic plays that struggle to be different just for the sake of being different.
If you haven’t visited Macbeth since high school, get thee to Lou Trapani’s production at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. His adaptation honors the bones of the story, retains its most cherished and familiar lines and shuns most examples of obscure Elizabethan vocabulary.
Best of all, however, is Trapani’s direction. The stage is intensely alive from first moment to last with hundreds of telling details, movements and behaviors that add color, humanity and mood to the bard’s words without ever violating them.
The costumes speak relentlessly throughout (created by each actor for himself, we are told). Although Trapani says that the setting is a post-apocalyptic world, to this viewer the costumes kept saying that the lust for power is always with us-everywhere-in the Middle Ages, in World War II, in Vietnam, in contemporary rock-star egomania, in Dickens’ London, in prehistoric savagery in the whole violent panoply from the birth of the planet to a possible future: an earth-raped dystopia. All that in costumes? (Among my favorites are a gun-toting Patty Hearst ready to rob the bank and a servant who is a booted, belted, beaded and bare-chested frenzy of self-adoration.)
The set by Richard Prouse is a scabrous wall, with Y-shaped steps leading down to center stage. It is wonderfully versatile and kind to the director, giving him depths and levels and ways to place actors and differentiate scenes. It says, yes, we’re medieval, except for our Bronx 1960 cinder blocks at the bottom of the stairs, and our 19th century, Sweeney Todd barrel and the I-don’t-know-what tall column, colored and broken.
Of course the steps are used and used-in one scene by a deliberately adagio porter (Douglas Wooley). He descends a few, then settles his bum on one of them for a while in order to delay the unwelcome task of door-opening. Then he repeats the ritual a few times, to our repeated delight.
Trapani is blessed with a number of very good actors, starting with Lisa Lynds, whose Lady Macbeth begins the play with assertive sexuality and bravado and slowly retreats from it, observing with blunted understanding the events that roll out from her machinations. Lynds delivers a wonderfully understated sleepwalking scene before her final shriek and demise.
Joshuah Patriarco as Malcolm stands out even in early scenes during which he is not central, and his final triumph is strong and particular.
The above-mentioned Douglas Wooley is a charming porter and a solid triple-cast supporting actor.
The father-son relationship between Justin Waldo as Banquo and Bennett Melley as Fleance is warm and real beyond the script.
As Macduff, the handsome Michael Brooks occupies his spaces with clear authority; and his grief at learning of the murder of his wife and children is done simply and touchingly.
The witches are engaging, if not very scary. It’s easy to grow fond of their spotted flannel pajamas and a certain Pillsbury-dough-boy gusto.
Rick Lange as Macbeth is physically perfect for the role, and the character’s wicked rush to power and Christian regrets seem to be roiling aptly in his mind; but the words often fail for lack of vowels. Vowels, m’ man. Where are the vowels? Voices sometime fail in lesser roles as well, but none of that manages to sink this interesting production.
The cult of manliness abounds in Macbeth. Lady Macbeth taunts her husband with his lack thereof. A father almost rejoices in his son’s manly battlefield death. (Parents of Muslim suicide bombers understand.) The great god “manly” rules in all the bloody battles, repeated murders and lusting after power. Then, as now and forever, it appears that killing is definitely a “manly” virtue.
Trapani says he has deliberately put the violence front and center; but no stage production can compete with our abundance of gory dick-flicks. Why would one wish to? This production pinpoints the issue it ought: Whence civilization?
See Macbeth Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17 at 8 p.m.; Sunday April 18 at 3 p.m. Box office: (845) 876-3080.
PS: Before the play opens and at the act break there is some gratuitous rock “noisic” played over the sound system. Do go to Macbeth; but bring your ear plugs for intermission.