It can be argued that it is not the title character that is really in charge when it comes to Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, “Macbeth.” No, he’s just along for the ride, twisting and turning to keep up with the whims of his wife and of the witches that predict his fate. It’s this helpless, yet somehow compelled character that makes “Macbeth” the tragedy it is. And as one of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedies, it’s a favorite of community, amateur and professional theaters throughout the county. “Macbeth” is a play filled with legend, with betrayal, violence and passion and its language is hypnotic, mesmerizing and richly complex. That makes producing this favorite even more difficult, though such risky endeavors are hardly something that The Wit Theatre Company shies away from.
Director J Murray d’Armand has scaled back all of the frills in his intimate production, now playing at Crossroads Theatre. The set, costumes, props and even the lighting is all scaled back, allowing the language of the piece to speak for itself. His approach works well in some aspects, but not as well in others. When you strip a script down to its bones, you must have the talent on stage to back it up and not all of d’Armand’s actors are up to the challenge. Thankfully, however, there are some strong performances that rise to the surface. Sean “Silas” Hall takes on the title character, and performs admirably, filled with angst, anger and commitment. Hall would benefit from a little relaxation, he needs to just sit back into the role, and allow the angry world to come to him, instead of pushing to find it himself. Carolyn Demanelis is another stand out as Lady Macbeth, with a powerful presence that such a role demands. Her performance of the classic “out damn spot” monologue was a high point in the show, as she truly shined in the moment.
Two other standouts are Zach Brown and Natasha Gleichmann as Macduff and Lady Macduff. Both are strongly committed to their respective roles, and each bring a genuine performance to the stage. Perhaps the biggest payoff of the night, however, is the fight scene between Macduff and Macbeth. The small stage seems to get even smaller as the two battle it out in a very well choreographed fight. Both Brown and Hall excel here, leaving a strong impression by the end of the play.
The rest of the cast is uneven, with both strong and weak moments. When dialogue is as complex as this is, it is even more crucial that the cast has a firm understanding of what is being said. Sadly, it did not seem that this was the case with a lot of the supporting cast, with poetic moments passing so swiftly that they never have much of a chance to appear.
The design is also uneven in this production. Nothing is credited, so it is difficult to compliment the designers that did submit strong work. However, the set design is one of the stronger points. The simplistic uses of tree stumps that allow the witches to watch as their predictions unfurl is smart and effective. The projection work creates a strong visual impact, though it would have been nice to see some variation in the scenes being set. Unfortunately, the lighting is difficult, with many dark spots that obstruct actor’s faces and prevent the audience from seeing important moments.
I must also credit whoever created the sound design for this production (again, it is not listed in the program), as it was a smart decision to use all original local music to punctuate important moments. The use of modern music helps to bring the energy and life into a show that is more than 400 years old. Lastly, it was disappointing to not see any reference to blood in the production, especially for a show that is so well known for being one of the bloodiest scripts ever written.
The Wit Theatre Company has some exciting productions coming up, and it is admirable of them to take on such difficult work. With shows like “The Last Five Years” and “Gypsy” coming up, it is clear that this brave little company is not afraid of a challenge. They are presenting exciting and important works for audiences in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver, and this provides a valuable artistic outlet for many. Difficulties of the production aside, the company deserves applause for taking this risk and for bringing such significant works to the stage.
The Wit Theatre Company Presents:
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Through March 7, 2014
At 7:00 PM
At The Crossroads Theatre
2590 Washington Street
Denver, CO 80205
Tickets are $17.50