Friday, September 18, 2009

OSF: Macbeth (STOS)

Well, that was a pleasant surprise! It's not that I wasn't looking forward to Macbeth at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; I just didn't give it much thought at all. I associate Macbeth with high school/college because I read it and saw it so often then, and several times since. But, what the heck, we're down here, we'll see what they do with it.

This production, directed by Gale Edwards, kept my attention, and was even riveting in places. This was the most violent stage production I think I've ever seen. They did really cool stuff with theater gore. The schoolkids raised on the Matrix tittered but I thought the effects were neat-o. And the fight scenes were athletic, intense, and realistic; they really did have me leaning forward in my seat and holding my breath, and I was worried about Kevin Kenerly (Macduff) even though everyone in the theater knows how it's going to come out. Not sure about the egghead-fetus-monsters that came out of the cauldron; those were a little goofy. As usual here at OSF, I have no idea what the costume designers were thinking. But overall director Gale Edwards took some risks with conventions and our suspension of disbelief and it mostly worked. I agree with the Weisenheimer that the brilliant (actually, very dark and focused) lighting made all the difference.

Good idea to have the women--Lady Macbeth and the weird sisters--be so sexual. (How can you not?) Robin Goodrin Nordli is always a treat to watch, and she was fierce and irresistible as Lady Macbeth. The chemistry between Macbeth and his Lady crackled--their sexual chemistry, the alliance and understanding between them, and the disappointment, disgust, and chasm between them. Kevin Kenerly's Macduff is a perfect foil and complement to Macbeth, showing a range of emotion and resolve that is equal to and finally believably superior to Macbeth's. Rex Young was a super creepy ghost Banquo, and I loved Josiah Phillips as the porter. (I never get enough Josiah Phillips down here; more and bigger roles for him, please!)

Before I describe my impressions of Peter Macon in the title role, a word about acting. I appreciate subtlety and understatement as much as anyone, but am not one who is allergic to anything more than, say, a flick of an eye to convey emotion. I especially appreciate actors (and directors) who can suit their acting to the stage and the style of the play. I expect something different between Balagan's tiny black box theater and a Greenstage production at Lincoln Park. Between the Lizzy and the Old Cow here at OSF. Between a fourth wall play like Hedda Gabbler and a commedia dell'arte-derived romp like Servant of Two Masters. And I do NOT expect what we get in movies and TV. I especially wonder about critics who call out mugging in productions on the Lizzy. I always want to ask them just a few questions: Where were you sitting? Have you sat in the balcony or row P? And how much TV/movies are you watching? Overacting is going to be in the eye of the beholder...and when I do think it's happening, I always wonder what's going on in the dance between actor and director.

So for me, larger than life can be just fine, and Peter Macon was that. It's so nice to see vigorous, virile, muscular, athletic performances for Shakespeare's lead characters who are, you know, military conquerers, conniving politicians, murderers, and kings. In Edwards' and Macon's hands, Macbeth's ambition, appetite, violence, and craziness send shock waves. The most important and finest thing to me in Macon's performance is that he has mastered the language and speaks it beautifully. Macbeth is almost all verse, and Macon accomplished the difficult feat of making the verse sing and rendering the meaning immediate, spontaneous, clear, and believable. I could feel (more than hear) the beat of the blank verse without it ever slipping into monotony or recitation. And I'd love to have the "She should have died hereafter..." speech recorded so I could listen to it often just to cheer me up. All of that said, I would have reined in some of the physical emoting a little bit. There were a few times when I almost wanted to close my eyes to hear his powerful and moving delivery of the poetry without the distraction of quite so much hand wringing. I'm convinced now that Macon is a wonderful addition to the company. All I would suggest is just a little less writhing. I look forward to Macon's impressive command in future performances.

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