It was Shakespeare that first got me excited about the theatre. I remember vividly a class field trip to see a touring production of Othello from the Guthrie Theatre. The actor who played Iago was so charismatic and yet so evil. He had you laughing in one moment and moaning in another with how vile his two-faced behavior could be. Watching him on that stage, holding the audience in the palm of his hand, I thought to myself: I want to do THAT! It was with excitement I saw the Classical Actors Ensemble's production of MacBeth this past weekend at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, directed by Joseph Papke.
The first impression of the production is that these are all solid actors. The age of the cast ranges from very young adult to seasoned veterans, but everyone is on par with talent. They know to handle the text, they never shy away from the challenge of Shakespeare. As a company, it is also evident that the cast has chemistry. Any weak links are not made because of the actors, but more just the inevitable string of non-descript characters that populate the nobles and servants of the play.
Another fun feature is a live band, performing covers of aptly chosen pop songs which fit the subject matter. The singers were actors in the production who would come out to sing, sometimes solo or sometimes in tandem, to provide a brief interlude between acts.
I also enjoyed the stage effects. Whether it was shadow work to depict the goriest moments of battle, or the weird sisters' rituals, it allowed the imagination of the audience to soar. The best effect of the night was the first appearance of Banquo's ghost, which definitely caught the audience by surprise and was just straight up awesome.
Overall, MacBeth was very well-played. The actor was extremely charismatic, was present with the audience, and seemed to enjoy himself as he became drunk with power. His Lady MacBeth's descent into madness was also equally strong.
My only complaint from their performances is that I felt the beginning the play lacked an element which could have strengthened the early choices to murder their way into power. From my vantage point, both characters lacked an awareness, as they were performed, that these characters had ambitions to raise the political ladder. This thirst for power is what sets both characters down their tragic spirals, but because the actors did not play this subtext, the decision to murder king Duncan and frame his children didn't quite make sense. As the play went on, this issue began to work itself out.
Banquo was particularly strong. His chemistry with MacBeth was strong, and his appearances as a specter were both creepy and fun.
MacBeth's assassin, Seyton, does not say much in the second half of the play, but he is effective in carrying out MacBeth's plans. The best scene in the show for me was the murder of Lady MacDuff and her child. Both actors effectively made the audience laugh with their effective witty dialogue, and make the audience care about them enough in just a few short moments before Seyton arrives to murder them.
My least favorite scene was the Porter's monologue. It is actually one of my favorite parts of the play normally. However the actor, though very inventive in his interpretation, and very physically committed to a series of mimed slapstick moments, suffers a little from trying too hard to make a naturally funny monologue more entertaining.
The only other critique left to give is really the length of the play. It felt a little long, especially near the end when the pace should begin to pick up to the inevitable moment of confrontation between MacBeth and those set on fighting him to the death.
The stage combat was effective, and hit the right amount of action for me, with some fun moments.
If you love Shakespeare, I recommend this company to anyone in the Twin Cities. They are a company that does good work, highly professional in their presentation, and I will be seeing their production of Julius Caesar later this week. Both shows are still running, and ticket prices are on a sliding scale starting at $15.