Theatre Review: Nothing Wicked This Way Comes

review

Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare; produced by the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival: seen June 25, 2011

Where do I even begin? Macbeth is my favorite Shakespearean tragedy, and may very well be my favorite of all his plays. It’s also one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, and most likely his bloodiest. (As the article in the program states, the image of blood appears more than 100 times.) As I’ve told a number of people as I’ve contemplated what I’d do if I directed it, if Macbeth was written today, it wouldn’t be considered a tragedy – it’d be a horror film.

When I saw that the set had stones reminiscent of Stonehenge, with a little bit of castle around it, I was excited to see how the Druidic/Celtic/Picti influences of the play would be peppered throughout. The music of the first half was effectively creepy, although it turned into some stereotypical Loreena McKennitt/Chieftans knockoff in the second act. And director Sidonie Garrett made an interesting choice of having Lady Macbeth (played by Kim Martin-Cotten), in the Act I scene 5 scene where she asks to be unsexed, play it as though she herself is a witch as well.

However, for the most part, this production missed the mark. While the first half had great pacing for the most part, the second half seemed to drag on and never seemed to pick up the energy it had before intermission. The choice to use kilts but not use them properly (the kilts were way too long for men – in Scottish times, the longer kilts were for children and for women) but no Scottish accents (or brief bits here and there) left me cold (and don’t get me started on the British accents that popped up a couple of times), making it a hodgepodge of time periods and killing my suspension of disbelief more than a few times. The hair extensions and Henna body art on John Rensenhouse was more distracting than complimentary, making me feel like I was getting ready to see Spinal Tap, not Shakespeare. And don’t even get me started on what passed as the fight scene in the climax of the piece that was so obviously staged fighting (when you see the person block before the attacker even has their weapon raised, that’s major telegraphing). Let’s just leave it at my ‘Really? REALLY?” I found myself wanting to shout.

Photo courtesy Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
Photo courtesy Heart of America Shakespeare Festival

I’m not sure if it’s because Rensenhouse was (as you can read in my spotlight of him) nervous about taking on the lead role, but his performance came across more as a recitation of lines and less of an embodiment of a power-hungry king, although when he was with Martin-Cotten, the two had some great chemistry together. In fact, Garrett gave them both some great sexual overtones in their scenes together, ramping up the ‘savagery’ aspect of the two. Martin-Cotten didn’t really have much of a character arc to her interpretation, playing the role the same in her first scene as her last, leaving me less than convinced that she was insane.

Whenever it was one of them on stage (or neither), however, the play faltered, with the only noticeable exceptions being Bruce Roach as Banquo (although his ghost during the dinner was the weakest part of his performance) and Jacques Roy’s Malcolm. Otherwise, it felt like everyone was just going through the motions. David Fritts’ Macduff especially was all about ACTING, and less about actually portraying a part.

For such a bloody play, it was relatively clean – the only exception right after the two kill off Duncan. I know, as a theatre person myself, that it can be difficult to have actual stage blood on stage, especially for a production that goes on night after night. But that’s where your tech can come in, with lighting effects or set pieces or props helping the effect along. (Or even costume – and we only get a red dress for Lady M for her last scene!) When I saw the Stonehenge-styled set pieces, I fully expected that they would be used in this, with blood (or some equivalent) staining them for each death, with the set completely red by the time Macbeth is killed off. “Blood will have blood”, is the line – too bad this production didn’t feel that was necessary.

Quote of the evening: “Witches don’t do that.” – one of the teen girls sitting next to me.

And now, a commentary. For many people, Shakespeare in the Park is the only theatre they get in a year, and the atmosphere of the Festival helps offset the ‘it’s good for you’ mentality that many an audience member has about theatre in general and Shakespeare specifically. But we, as the ones producing the theatre, need to realize that audiences judge the entire realm of theatre by each time they attend. Especially in this economic climate, and especially in this case when the show almost didn’t go on, people feel theatre is a luxury, something that can be dropped when the money gets tight. That’s why I supported the Shakespeare Festival when they sent out the note about the possibility of not being able to go on this year, and I also made sure to have money with me to support them at the actual production. And the last time I went to the Festival, it was 2007’s Romeo & Juliet, where (since I’m not a big fan of that show) I was pleasantly impressed by the show they put on.

Having a curtain speech that basically amounts to a long infomercial about how bad things are, followed by a list of companies that no one – outside of the CEOs of those companies – cares that they donated, followed by another plea for funds was just too much. Don’t make people feel that theatre is something that has to be endured, like medicine. Especially when followed up by something like this, where it felt like just another production. I understand that you need to do this to keep the money rolling in, but surely there are other ways outside of boring the groundlings – especially since 10 people, each donating a small amount, could feasibly add up to one big donor instead.

I was disappointed in this production, especially knowing what each of these people are capable of, doubly so when I heard how much they had to raise just for this year’s outing. This year’s production ended up being ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ It could have been so much better.

Macbeth, produced by the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, is playing until July 3, and more information can be found at www.kcshakes.org.

  • I agree that the pleading for donations was a bit over the top, especially as from my vantage, I couldn’t see anyone without “Free Will” stickers.

    However, I really enjoyed the final battle – while the sword handling was a bit rough, the yellow and orange smoke billowing from behind the set was truly majestic and breath-taking, and really lent the feeling of being under siege. So, props to the special effects artist for that!

    • Thanks, Andi – I’m sure I’m biased as well, being married to a guy who’s done fight choreography from time to time, and Richard Buswell (managing editor of KC Stage does it as part of his many professional outings.

  • Frank Psola

    I’m not in this show. I’ve voiced dissatisfaction online before for certain shows/companies. I’m not embedded in the scene. But there are common themes running through your work — even whole phrases — and that is just funny.

    But, um… Maybe KC theatre would be in better shape if it didn’t have KC Stage send an uncomfortable, cranky hatchetwoman to every show..?

    Go out there and do some real writing for the theatre — a play. I don’t know if you identify with them, but actresses could use a woman writing for women. What’s the ratio, women to men — 10:1? And you might actually, you know, discover the nuances of critiquing these performances instead of your “I Could Be Watching Ghost Whisperer” droning.

    You may have experience in theatre, but I’m guessing you’ve been sidelined for a reason: you’re not really an artist, a petty gatekeeper instead of a gifted tastemaker. What does Mikey like? Who knows? — Mikey’s just hungry.

    Are you also aware that when you write these it’s here and on KCStage and Facebooked and Twittered and picked up on multiple websites? It’s not just in one place to be Google’d and “on the record” — your gleaming wit is the only review of these shows and it is VIRAL. It is the only review, the only opinion, and it’s a sloppy, glib one.

    These aren’t insightful assessments: comparing things to SPINAL TAP and using worn-out observations (quoting “full of sound and fury,” “Otherwise, it felt like everyone was just going through the motions”) question you as a connoisseur and insider and paints the plays themselves — however bad they may be — as worse than they may have been. Worse because they may have even degraded the critic herself.

    You write for a second-rate newsletter that’s barely discovered pull quotes, typeface, and layout — you’re working way, way too hard for them; putting yourself too on-the-line. Your positive observations are boring, your negative observations have the tint of being personally offended — which is bizarre, but I’m guessing it’s because you don’t craft your writing voice, since only you read it — and indignant that a person as seasoned as yourself must be subjected to such bad work.

    It is nice, however, that you aren’t glad-handing and subservient. (Is that what you’re compelled to assert?) You’d be pleasantly ignored then — and what good is that (Critical silence after a life on the Midwestern stage must be heartbreaking — it’d be much, much worse)? But I don’t think you have — and no, I can’t believe I’m playing an elitist card against an elitist card — the palate. You were on stage. You’ve been in shows. Were you betrayed, somehow, by the experience? Or do dreams of better days blunt all possible nuances of your analysis?

    The issue is the analysis. “Theatre for Dummies”. Is that the audience? The reader of this blog? The performers and others you malign with all the finesse of a big tourist baby who’s dehydrated?
    “You’re dummies,” it says, “let me break this down for you.”

    Is my work going to be the next target? Who’s next?

    It should be the goal of all Kansas City theatres to boycott your magazine and revoke your free pass… not on the basis of harsh reviews, but on sloppy, repetitious hatchet jobs.

    As for me, I’m making sure you’re the subject of my next play. It shouldn’t be too hard to find people to read it.

    The only thing I’m worried about is, what is this character’s motivation?

    At least I can start with ruling out a love of great critical writing.

    • Frank,

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate the effort you put into your critical analysis of my review of Macbeth. It coincided with a blog post I was already writing, on how I want to like the shows I review.

      I hope you continue to support the all-volunteer KC Stage Magazine, and our mission to “facilitate dialogue on the state of Kansas City’s performing arts community”, as well as to further the recognition and quality of the performing arts in the Kansas City area.

      Just a reminder that anyone can rate or review any show listed on KC Stage. Free registration is required, but that’s just so we know you’re a real person, not a spambot. Thanks again!