This minimalist staging of the Bard’s Scottish play reduces the ensemble to 10 thesps, who struggle in vain to make viable the evil doings at Cawdor Castle. Laser-voiced Harry Lennix as Macbeth and a sinuously insidious Patrice Quinn as his lady admirably convey the moral descent of the ambition-crazed royal duo, but they are done in by helmer Steve Marvel’s chaotic, run-’em-on-run-’em-off staging and an uneven supporting cast.
The Lillian Theater’s large open stage area, inadequately dressed with one rock-like centerpiece, proves a formidable performance arena for such a small ensemble. Marvel rushes his cast through “Macbeth’s” all-important expository opening scenes, wherein the tragic destinies of battle-victorious Macbeth and his two royal pals, Banquo (Lamont Thompson) and Macduff (Karl Calhoun), are set in motion by the prophesies of one overworked Witch (Erica Tazel).
Both Thompson and Calhoun bring vital intensity to their characters, but are so intent on getting the words out that the subtleties of emotion and motivation are lost.
This is not a problem with Peter Macon, who imbues the doomed King Duncan with a booming, ingratiating regal authority. Since Duncan is dispatched early in the proceedings, Macon’s sonorous voice also finds use as a philosophical Old Man, a learned English doctor and the warring Siward, commander of the English forces against Macbeth.
No one is seen and heard more than Tazel. Not only is she three-witches-in-one but, constantly running on and off stage, she portrays servants, messengers, a gentlewoman of the court and the foolishly brave young son of Siward. In her one spotlight turn, Tazel is memorable as the fragile Lady Macduff, left alone to face the murderous wrath of Macbeth’s henchmen.
Throughout Macbeth’s blood-drenched ascent to the throne of Scotland, Lennix instills a constantly evolving ambivalence within the rogue ruler, tangibly communicating how this king is never in charge of his own destiny. Lennix carries this tension right up to Macbeth’s final confrontation, exuding relief when he commands his former friend, “Lay on, Macduff.”
Quinn’s Lady Macbeth projects an understated sensuality that entwines her hesitant mate. Quinn’s portrayal makes viable the actions of a loving wife who only wants what is best for her husband.
The supporting cast of Rohan Ali, Edi Gathegi, Amad Jackson and Geno Monteiro race through a number of roles with mixed success. Their intermittent use of dialects often impedes the clarity of the text, particularly in Monteiro’s indecipherable perf as the Porter, the only real comic relief in the play.
Production design, by Emily Phillips (sets) and Angeline Summers-Marvel (lighting), is woefully inadequate.