by Terrance Mc Arthur
“Something wicked this way comes.”
It comes across a black expanse fissured with jagged cracks of blood red, peopled with refugees from a Halloween Haunt and a martial arts studio. It is a violent, unsettling version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the first play in the Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s tenth season in Fresno’s Woodward Park.
In Greg Taber’s “distillation” of The Scottish Play, an evil entity (Russell Noland) runs the show at the beat of his drum, capturing the souls of the dead for his masked troupe of the tortured. Scenes are rearranged, speeches are dissected, familiar lines are jettisoned or transformed, and wooden-staff battles break out frequently. This world is a madhouse, but it’s also an akido dojo. Formal ceremonies slowly unfold, yet all is done within two hours of a summer night, intermission included.
Taber stars as the title character, a brave warrior whose supernaturally heralded ascent to power plunges him into the depths of madness. Taber is detached, viewing Macbeth from an objective distance. His giddy insanity, amused by the evil he can do and the power he has acquired to use without consequences, happens sooner than Lady Macbeth’s better-known lunacy.
Banquo, Macbeth’s brother-in-arms and Fortune’s long-term favorite, gets a blustery, jovial treatment from Jay Parks. The friend-of-the-hero role suits him and his surfer-dude hair, and Macbeth’s jealousy and betrayal of his friend is made more stark by Banquo’s kindness. A touching element is added by Parks’ master-student sparring with his son, Fleance, played with earnestness by Joshua Taber.
Kate McKnight makes a slyly-prodding Lady Macbeth. Often, the character is pushy and shrewish, goading her husband into murderous action. Since Taber’s Macbeth is already on the road to sociopathy, McKnight can be more subtle in leading him. One of the most chilling moments is a rapturous husband-wife embrace as they plan regicide, the killing of a king. When she slides into madness, McKnight does not opt for frantic wailing, as is often seen in other productions; instead, she echoes Taber’s bemused enjoyment of the psychotic lifestyle.
Robert Daniels was an unforgiving minister in last season’s Inherit the Wind, but he shows more humanity as the ill-fated King Duncan. Presented as a blind, Yoda-like sensei, teaching his sons to be kings as he bats away their attempts at surprise attacks, Daniels is a stabilizing presence until his murder allows chaos to reign. Broderic Beard as Donalbain and JT Greenberg as Malcolm, the sons of Duncan, provide an innocent counterpoint to Macbeth’s malignant growth.
Hal Bolen has been onstage for every season of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival. He played the ill-fated King Duncan in the festival’s first version of Macbeth, and he gets to sink his teeth into several parts here, from a loyal Scottish nobleman to an aged subject with a long memory, and the comic-relief Porter, whose ramblings have been edited to a more-compact length.
Megan DeWitt, Donna Halliburton, and Jessica Reedy are the witches who act as oft-unseen companions to the Macbeths, guiding and approving their depravity. With pasty-white makeup punctuated by dribbles and smears of blood, they are a grisly trio.
The speech is clear and measured, the action is stylized and fluid, and there are even Hirschfeld-like hidden writings on the scenery. It’s not a play for small children, unless they frequently are allowed to watch Kill Bill.
Macbeth plays Thursdays, Fridays (except July 4), and Saturdays through July 12 at 8 p.m. on the Festival Stage in Woodward Park near the dog park area and the northeast entrance. The play is free, but the park entrance fee is $5 per car. Learn more about the rest of the shows this season on KRL’s local theatre event page.
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