Review by Bart Greenberg
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a notoriously difficult work despite being the playwright’s shortest tragedy, a mix of blood, sex and witchcraft. Too often it comes off stodgy and over-directed (and often, over-acted). The play also comes with the extra baggage of being a “cursed” piece, thought to bring bad luck by simply being mentioned backstage by name, and quoting a line from this very quotable work can lead to terrible consequences – or so it is believed.
The American Theatre of Actors’ current production avoids some of these pitfalls. A youthful, athletic cast keeps both action and story going, even in the second half when the play becomes problematic as it leaps around locations, characters and countries, before returning to its central characters. However, the cast is a mixed bag as far as comfort with the language and the brutal aspect of the characters.
Co-directors James Jennings and Jane Culley keep the action moving with the performers scaling the structural set and sprinting through the audience to make entrances and exits. There is a strong emphasis on sexuality, with most of the male actors shirtless at some point, and far more emphasis on crotches and masculine endowments than necessary.
Thomas Leverton makes a fine if idiosyncratic MacBeth. If he seems a bit slight in build to be the triumphant warrior in the early scenes, he seems to grow in power and passion as the play progresses as his King suffers a emotional break after Banquo’s death, including a truly harrowing seizure, from which he emerges more cold-blooded and single-minded. As his lady, Jessica Jennings is hampered by her girl-next-door beauty and her soprano speaking voice that would seem more suitable for any of the Rodgers and Hammerstein heroines than the ambitious ruthless consort.
Outstanding is supporting roles are Zen as a brutal and coldly passionate Macduff and Al Perez (making a very impressive stage debut) as a too trusting Banquo. Shayna Lawson makes something special out of her one scene role as Lady Macduff, while David Remple shows fine growth as Prince Malcolm from frightened prince to worthy King.
While flawed, this is unquestionably a Macbeth worth viewing for its strong points.
Macbeth plays through September 19th at The Chernuchin Theater at 314 West 54th St.