By Michael H. Margolin, EncoreMichigan.com
Whether director Brian Carbine planned it this way, the two acts of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” played at different speeds and with quite different results in the opening of the Blackbird Theatre’s summer season.
There is a certain majesty in the way Carbine introduces the cast, all dressed in black but for Macbeth’s grey tee: facing the audience, lined up across the band shell, to the sound of a drum. Then they make their way across the grassy space in Ann Arbor’s West Park to the small, humble area flanked by wooden benches on three sides.
The first act sets up the tragedy to follow in the second. But, except for the three witches, nobody seems very hyped on their destinies or the future to come. Well, Barton Bund as Macbeth does head toward conviction and Dan Johnson seems overjoyed and happy with himself as Duncan, but he is swiftly dispatched by Macbeth in his quest for a kingdom.
Even Lady Macbeth, played by Jamie Weeder, who is, after all, the wet nurse to Macbeth’s ambition, seems more coy than courageous in her convictions. The impressive Banquo comes to life in the well-spoken performance of Maxim Hunt. Maybe opening night jitters, the heat, kept the first act drifting rather than surging.
In the second act, which begins with the banquet scene interestingly staged as a picnic, as soon as Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, Bund seems to get the bit between his teeth, and even Lady M seems to dip into some ironic stream and the scene plays with strength.
In this swift act, the players seem to come to life, or rather come to grips with death: It is as if death, murder, blood, battles were an aphrodisiac. Even the witches seem terrified, then empowered to deliver their witchy prophesy to Macbeth. They plunge around the three buckets – which serve as props throughout the production – and give a fierce reading to the famous “double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble…”
When Lady M goes mad, she is seated in a great washtub, and water is poured over her, tinged pink to suggest the blood she and her spouse washed from their murderous hands. And when Jonathan West as Macduff laments the death of wife and “babes,” the emotion spreads and vaults the simple stage, almost, but not quite, making up for West’s poor projection and diction.
Speaking of speaking, almost everyone in the cast – there are a few exceptions – ought to heed Hamlet’s advice to the players: “Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines.”
This may be the least poetic of any “Macbeth” I remember, with great lines rushed or sloppily spoken and many times simply inaudible: The majesty of the language is second-bested and the action is all. At the end of the swift second act, as Macbeth lays dead, there is a distinct whiff of tragedy in the lovely summer air, not only the agony of defeat but the butchered language.
To their credit, each actor (but for Bund and Weeder) takes on several roles and brings a different quality with them at each entrance. Aside from those mentioned above, they are Ben Stange (who also designed the simple, often effective contemporary costumes) Marissa Dluge, Carla Angeloni and two high school apprentices who do quite well: Ryan Duda and Hallie Bins.
If you are unfamiliar with the play, you will want to read a summary beforehand. Then again, as the production, like the summer, warms up, there may be more to hear and admire as well as see.
For tickets and showtimes, go to EncoreMichigan.com.
Michael H. Margolin reviews local theater productions for http://www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.