“Macbeth” at the Acting Company at the Pearl Theatre (Closed April 9, 2015)

April 3, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags: ,
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Devin Brain
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Acting Company in association with The Guthrie Theater has delivered a trimmed and taut reinvention of Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (“The Scottish Play”) to audiences at the Pearl Theatre in Manhattan as part of its current tour paired with Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” This ninety minute “Macbeth” delivers the Bard’s iconic tragedy compressed with explosive energy and is performed to perfection by a resplendent cast. Think “House of Cards” on steroids and the image created begins to match the reality of what the Acting Company has accomplished with this “Macbeth.”

“Macbeth” endures because its themes of the pathology of evil, the seduction of unbridled power, and the psychological burden of misdeeds play out daily in headlines, in political and socioeconomic systems, and in family systems. Its resilience resides in its insight into the human condition and the ambition for power. Under the taut direction of Devin Brain, the ensemble cast brings into sharp focus all of these themes successfully.

“Macbeth” has been performed so often in a multitude of genres and presented from as many settings as one could imagine (real time, contemporary, etc.). This makes it challenging for the actors – even the most proficient in their craft – to settle comfortably into their roles. In the Acting Company production, most accomplished that feat with exceptional results; some were adequate; and a few were not as strong as they should have been.

Gabriel Lawrence brings a powerful and demanding presence to his role as Macbeth. Mr. Lawrence understands the complexity of his character and easily portrays this complexity with authenticity and honesty. His Macbeth is both popular king and marauding madman and his madness encompasses the entire stage as its maximum pitch. This actor’s soliloquies and asides are delivered with brilliance and he makes the words of Macbeth sink deeply into the psyche. The Weird Sister (Suzy Kohane), Malcolm (Torsten Johnson), Banquo (Andy Nogasky), and the Porter (Ian Gould) are all brought to life with distinguished craft by the actors and command the stage at all times. They manage to completely mesmerize an audience of New York City high school students as well as the adults in the audience.

Given that Lady Macbeth (Angela Janas) is often considered to be the central character in the tragedy, it is surprising and somewhat disappointing that in this production she appears rather weak, powerless, and far from the evil monster she needs to be. Lady Macbeth’s complexity is lacking and this often affects the play’s most important scenes.

Neil Patel’s set is stark and brooding and complemented by Micheal Chybowski’s sparse lighting successfully allows the actors to create any scene without the use of a plethora of props. Indeed a tree trunk upstage center is the only permanent property on the set. Valerie Therese Bart’s costumes defy relegation to any specific time period and allow this “Macbeth” to reverberate with authenticity in any age. When the men put on their armor, they simply attach a “mini-breastplate” to their upper arms.

This is an important “Macbeth.” See one of the performances at the Pearl Theatre before it moves on April 9th.