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Toil and Trouble

A thrilling finish cannot rescue Richmond Shakespeare's "Macbeth."


Unfortunately, this stirring conclusion is not quite enough to salvage a largely uninspiring and indistinct production. For a story chock-full of violence, betrayal, madness and magic, this "Macbeth" engages only sporadically and rarely enthralls.

It would be easy to place the blame for this on Baker, who should be the engine driving this play and yet never seems to kick it into second gear. Though equipped with a mellifluous deep voice, his oddly desultory interpretation of Macbeth is full of halting cadences and swallowed words. From the beginning, when the power-mad Lady Macbeth (Laine Satterfield) first urges her husband to murder King Duncan of Scotland (Jim Bynum), Baker's Macbeth has an unfocused gaze and twitchy physicality that seems more appropriate for Hamlet. Dispatching with Duncan clears the way to the throne for Macbeth, but he is hounded by guilt and haunted by ghosts. He suspects his friends of treachery and grows more brutal in his handling of enemies. Through all this, Baker's demeanor barely changes, besides becoming a bit twitchier.

Still, the ultimate responsibility for this production falls on Master of Play (aka director) Rusty Wilson. He orchestrates several good scenes — a couple of spooky interludes with the witches, a chilling attack on Macduff's castle — and is particularly adept at using music to set the mood. But the majority of the preview performance I attended plodded along, the staging of some scenes particularly stagnant. When Macduff and Duncan's son Malcolm (Clifton Frei) rendezvous late in the play to plan their vengeful overthrow of Macbeth, they could be at a corporate board meeting for all the fire evident in their rhetoric.

Perhaps most disappointing,Wilson makes few concessions to the modern audience. Past Richmond Shakespeare Festival shows have enhanced the understanding of the Bard's dense Elizabethan English with physical cues sometimes bordering on pantomime. But most lines in this production are delivered straight and their underlying meanings may be lost to all but the most attentive listeners.

As if reflecting the flat nature of the production, many characters are costumed in a motley mix of grays, browns and blacks, designed by Tamara Cobus. (Only the witches are adorned with splashes of color.) There are a few bright spots: Satterfield, her Lady Macbeth clad in a near-shimmering white, her eyes wide and feral-looking, electrifies the stage in her first scene and remains the most compelling aspect of the play throughout. Both Carter as Macduff and Ryan Capps as Banquo show flashes of the natural machismo and dramatic grit needed to convey the nuances of Shakespeare's language. But these few bright spots cannot overcome this play's general dimness. S

Richmond Shakespeare's "Macbeth" plays through Aug. 6 at Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Thursday-Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets, $13-$23, are available by calling (866) BARD-TIX.

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