Thursday, September 17, 2009

OSF: Macbeth


From its opening sequence featuring a fast-paced swordfight that ended with a decapitation and a 10-foot fountain of blood, to the lopping off of the lead character's noggin at the end, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Macbeth in the Angus Bowmer Theatre was thrilling and exhilarating.

Gale Edwards directed the play, and scored with the casting of Peter Macon as Macbeth and Robin Goodrin Nordli as Lady Macbeth. Blood flows almost constantly during this production, but when these two share the stage sparks fly. The opening sequence, when Macbeth returns from the wars with a new title and witch-inspired ambition, is absolutely electric. (That's them in the festival photo by Jenny Graham, at right.)

While we were none too impressed with Macon as Othello last year, we can't say enough about his marvelous turn as Macbeth. Strong, ambitious, sexy, crazy, paranoid, stubborn, funny, charming, despairing, grieved, and resigned, he runs the gamut, makes the language his own, and absolutely dazzles. Nordli, who won our Wisey Award for best actress as Hedda Gabler last year, is brilliant as the lady, standing up to and lighting the fire of ambition in this dude three times her size. She runs that household and is a fine PR rep for Macbeth, until guilt and that damned spot drive her off the deep end.

The rest of the cast are mostly grand, but I'd give best supporting actor to Mark McCullough, the lighting designer for the production. McCullough bathes the set largely in blood red for much of the show, especially the first act. This cast a glow on the top of Macon's bald pate, as if he has blood on his head the whole time. I wasn't sure if this was purposeful, but it sure caught my eye. The lighting also made the curved staircase that was a prominent feature of the set into something of a mood ring for the production, going from blood red during the gory scenes to glowing gold when Duncan is about (albeit briefly) to green when Birnam Wood is marching toward Dunsinane. There was also a great scene of a solo speech by Lady Macbeth, during which her shadow loomed behind, 40 feet tall on the back wall of the theater. Cool!

Another great scene that is played as something of a comedy is the banquet at which the bloody corpse of Banquo turns up to torment his old friend Macbeth. He flails around and challenges a spectre nobody else can see -- at one point the pair tromp about on the banquet table -- until the ghost vanishes and Macbeth finally gets hold of himself and  bids the guests sit still. With perfect timing Lady Macbeth responds, "You have displac'd the mirth."

Macon is at his best near the end, despondent upon hearing of the death of his lady, and utterly convincingly delivers the brief-candle, tale-told-by-an-idiot speech from the depths of mourning, crumpled on the ground in woe.

The swordplay in Macbeth is marvelous. We found ourselves ducking way back in row J, and Sweetie fears for Kevin Kenerly, who as Macduff has spent the larger part of 2009 repeating a violent fight with a much larger man. The Scottish Play is believed by many to be jinxed. Something awful could happen. Watch out, Kevin!

One bit of costuming deserves note. Early in the second act Macbeth visits the witches for more information about the future. In the process they leave their handprints on Macon, one right atop his head, and several others on his back. These stick with him throughout the rest of the play. I get it -- the witches words have touched him and are always on his mind. But the prints thing was a little hokey. I was OK with the 20th-Century garb worn by the characters, though it's not everyone's cup of tea.

After the show, we heard a couple of patrons lamenting that Edwards had "botched" the play. We could not disagree more. Macbeth is a truly marvelous production, one of the favorites for me in five years attending OSF.

No comments: