Thursday, April 9, 2009

Macbeth (Hipgnosis Theatre)

By Leah

man, that lighting is an interesting choice • unevenly acted • not the best introduction to Shakespeare, but you may want to bring your literary buddy

Julian Rozzell, Jr. as Macbeth and (L-R) Rachel Tiemann, Amelia Workman and Bryn Boice as the Weird Sisters in MacBeth. Photo by Pharah Jean-Philippe.

BOTTOM LINE: The acting wasn't hot enough to overcome a deliberately cold production.

One of the bloodiest plays in Shakespeare's canon comes to the Lower East Side with the Hipgnosis Theater Company's production of Macbeth. This incarnation is set in a modern, stark, and urban world - i.e. cargo pants and combat boots, a bare stage, and colorblind casting. An excellent start. This auspicious beginning continues with the appearance of the Three Witches (Rachel Tiemann, Amelia Workman, and Bryn Boice), tightly wrapped in white plastic and gauze, whose collective presence remains wonderfully weird and delightfully disconcerting throughout the play. I respect, admire, and love daring production choices. But y'know what? This play left me really cold, and I think it only partially meant to.

The most interesting choice of the show is arguably the decision to stage it entirely in full light. And not only in full light, but with a good deal of it coming from flourecent strips and bouncing off the scuffed white vynl flooring which marks off the playing space. The concept, according to the press release, was to "propose that, in our urban society, ubiquitous light can be as much a source of terror and nightmare as darkness was in Jacobean England" and, to that end, it was somewhat successful. The monotony of the lighting was enough to drive anyone stark raving mad. Unfortunately, as one is going stark raving mad, it is difficult to pay attention to poor player strutting and fretting his hour on the stage. Furthermore, man, I like Shakespeare, and I still need it broken up by something. Don't get me wrong, the stage pictures were nice and dynamic, but really, the lack of lighting cues made the play feel a lot longer than it should have.

The reason I love bare-bones productions is because they highlight the acting. And let's face it, Macbeth is tough play to get right because the title character is a tough guy to get behind. As the Scottish Thane, Julian Rozzell, Jr. has some genuinely anguished and sympathetic moments, particularly during the soliloquies. In general though, it didn't seem like anyone in the cast was really talking to one another, nor did there seem to be a cohesive acting style. Some actors rushed through lines in rather naturalistic fashion, while others went for more traditional "Shakespearean" acting - that is, borderline declamation - and so there were some scenes when it didn't really feel like the actors were in the same play. The relationship between Mac and Lady Mac (Elizabeth Mirarchi) stands out as an exception to this; their interactions with each other are welcomed moments of genuine connection.

I think a lot of the choices of this production were interesting and commendable, but were meant to highlight acting and chemistry which, with a few exceptions, didn't really pop the night I was there. Go see it with your Bardophile buddy, not with the friend who is shaky on the whole theater experience; you won't be doing him any favors.

(Macbeth runs through April 19th at the Flamboyan Theatre, Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center, 107 Suffolk St.. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday at 8pm. The show runs 2 hrs. and 15 min. Tickets are $18, to purchase visit Smarttix or call 212-868-4444. For more show info visit

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