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  Tuesday September 30th, 2014    

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Macbeth (07/08/2007)
By John Edstrom


     
Tomorrow and tomorrow and

tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time

And all our yesterdays have

lighted fools

The way to dusty death: Out, out brief candle.

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

V.v. 21-31

Arguably the second greatest, or at least best known, of Shakespeare's tragic soliloquies after Hamlet's "To be or not to be," Christopher Gerson's Macbeth delivers it towards the end of the fifth act. Having "supped full with horrors," up to his neck in guilty blood, he utters the statement of world-sick nihilism, perhaps the most notable in the English language until recalled in Hemingway's Clean Well Lighted Place: "It was all nothing, and a man was nothing too...our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name."

The tomorrow and tomorrow soliloquy reads wonderfully as poetry, but how in the world is the actor to deliver it effectively as drama? Many a budding thespian in high school or college has tried it, and even with little knowledge of the theater at all, knew he came nowhere near. The first production of Macbeth I ever saw was Roman Polanski's cinema version and I concluded after the final "nothing" that Polanski needed to work harder on his English. Macbeth is a difficult part to play in a hard play to stage.

Gerson's rendition of the soliloquy is understated but effective, almost deadpan. By now his Macbeth is beyond any strong emotion, only disillusionment and despair. His concluding "nothing" is said without inflection or expression at all.

In perhaps a departure from the usual reading of the play, Director Doug Scholz-Carlson begins with a pair of youthful and lusty Macbeths. Instead of the austere dowager or wicked stepmother that I, at least, had always pictured, Kim Martin-Cotten's Lady Macbeth makes a young, fiery, and sexual entrance. She comes together with Macbeth in a passionate embrace, and their ambitious scheming is charged with a carnal energy.

Played this way, her goading of Macbeth to "screw his courage to the sticking point" is less monstrous than naive; she doesn't seem to know what she is getting them into. By the fifth act of this, one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, Lady Macbeth has aged emotionally as well as physically, in a piece of fine acting by Martin-Cotten. Like the old man in Hemingway's story, she too needs a well-lighted place to stave off the horror in the darkness and, after taunting Macbeth for his timidity, quickly succumbs to madness and, it is strongly suggested by the text, suicide.

Indeed, this is a play so full of violence and blood and murder as to deserve an R rating in any film version. If it were a video game you wouldn't let your children play it. Yet, Scholz-Carlson's fast-paced production never quite reaches the point of overkill (sorry), the looming murk and fog of night, and lurking ghosts and witches giving it enough of a Halloween feel to relieve the overall oppressiveness just a bit. Once again the familiar minimal set used for all the GRSF productions does an excellent job of suggesting castle and heath and haunted night; the costuming is richly evocative of a grim, medieval brutality, while nevertheless doing the charms of Lady Macbeth ample justice.

There are also bravura performances here in some of the lesser parts; Chris Mixon's performance of Macduff, particularly when informed of the slaughter of his wife and children " "What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/ At one fell swoop?" " is wonderfully nuanced and convincing in yet another difficult scene in a hard play for the actor. And Kern McFadden's Banquo was a standout, although I would have liked him as a little more antic ghost in the banquet scene.

Do be sure to go see Macbeth, and don't wait too long, for the short, short GRSF season will be over at the end of July. Even if Shakespeare is not your favorite dish, it will do you good to sit down and take in a play at the Performing Arts Center on the WSU campus, where you can bear witness to your tax dollars spent wisely and creatively on a lovely public venue that is, for once, not an assault on the eye or good taste.

J.E.

 

 

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