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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Review- Macbeth (Oberon Theatre Ensemble)

Reviewed by David Stallings.

The Shakespeare canon is like a bible for theater lovers. People feel strongly about motives, the way scenes should be played, or staged. One always has to remember that there is no singular way to produce Shakespeare; that is the beauty of it. Shakespeare’s themes are so universal and his characters so human, that his text may be used as a weapon—a tool by which the director may make his own unique statement. In the Oberon Theatre Ensemble’s Production of Macbeth, the performers work as a true unit to deliver a cohesive and crisp telling of the Scottish Lord’s dark deeds. Nothing about this Macbeth is cursed as it proved to be an enjoyable evening.

Macbeth -Oberon Theatre Ensemble
M. Eden Walker as Lady Macbeth &
John Gardner as Macbeth

Director Philip Atlakson has set this piece in a world torn between two times: the peaceful naturalism of the past and the harsh sexiness of a technological future. The ordered calm of Duncan’s Scotland is shown with quaint folk music, old-fashioned lanterns, and simple attire. The disordered world is cell-phones, i-pods, and techno music devoid of soul—basically a modern world. His first image is that of a woman—soon to be discovered as Lady Macbeth (M. Eden Walker)—having a fitful sleep that turns into an erotic dream with two beautiful witches (Paula Wilson & Allison Goldberg). That’s right, two—Atlakson’s concept is strong and theatergoers must relinquish their third witch for the moment. The witches are seen in steamy contemporary apparel and speak with distorted voices played in stereo. Then enters Macbeth, played with an endearing everyman quality by the talented John Gardner. The audience is reminded that at the beginning of this tale, Macbeth is a hero—a good man. Gardner captures that easily with his effortless command of the text. He is joined by his close friend Banquo—played by the charming Mac Brydon—before the witches foretell their future.

And what follows is the play. After the seed of being king is planted, Macbeth is transformed by greed and hubris—all through the help of his Lady. Atlakson has clung to the lines, “I have given suck, and know how tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me” in his characterization of Lady Macbeth, who is first seen nursing her child. We understand that it is from this child and the hope for him to be great, that all of her venom grows. It was a lovely choice played well by M. Eden Walker. Ms. Walker continues forward with the role with a confident presence. Her delivery of “screw your courage to the sticking-place” was particularly strong. She let us know exactly where that sticking place was. The relationship between Walker and Gardner was poignant and even tender. When Macbeth confesses to having murdered the men accused of Duncan’s murder, Ms. Walker reacts silently in such a way that every audience member sat forward in their seat. We knew in an instant that this was not part of their plan. And eventually Lady Macbeth transforms to a more sexual being—quite similar to the witches. Ultimately in the mad scene, she is seen as the third witch—dressed identically and is equally distorted. I told you the third witch would come.

An excellent surprise of the evening was James Holloway as Malcolm. Malcolm of course is Duncan’s son who is implicated in the murder after he flees the scene. Holloway plays the cold Malcolm with a freshness that commands sympathy from the audience. We follow his surprise that he does not weep for his father’s death through to his wantonness and final breaking. In many ways, one would assume Malcolm to be more villainess than Macbeth. Where Macbeth is first charming and friendly, Malcolm is always cold and distant. Perhaps Shakespeare is telling us that the kindest and warmest of people may just as easily swing like a pendulum in the equal and opposite direction.

Kudos must be given to the entire cast, who work well as an ensemble and obviously enjoy the evening as much as the audience. Brian D. Coats is enigmatic as the blind Duncan. Cliff Jewell delivered a vibrant Porter speech. Grace Pettijohn is lively as the Gentlewoman. And Jonathan Pereira is intimidating as flip and menacing Seyton.

Philip Atlakson is also attributed with the appropriate set—which turns into Birnam Wood skillfully. Mickey Zetts’ sound establishes the tearing of time well. Goldie Zweibel costumed the show with a blend of the rustic and contemporary to match director’s vision.

Although certain traditions of the play were lost—such as the third witch and Donalbain—what is gained is a clean, eventful, and tight rethinking of a classic. And that push of the line is what keeps theater fresh and alive in the NYC Off-Off Broadway community today.

Oberon Theatre Ensemble
William Shakespeare’s

Closes March 8th
Lion Theatre on TheatreRow
Tickets: $20.00; /
Lion Theatre on Theatre Row | 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th & 10th Aves.)

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