Review Featured in Hi!Drama

by William J. Cataldi

"There was a time when American film and theater was about getting the girl and beating the odds. It left you feeling uplifted and emboldened to tackle life. Obviously, Shakespeare’s tragedies are not that sort of theater, but how one feels afterward depends on the production. I left Tanner Maroney’s Macbeth with a stomach ache and tension in my head from clenching my muscles. Theater isn’t always about elation; oftentimes it’s about exploring the demons in the human soul with no hope in sight. If that’s something you might like, definitely go see this Macbeth.

Briefly, after three witches tell him that he will ultimately become King of Scotland, Macbeth, goaded on by his wife, Lady Macbeth, murders the current king, unleashing a chain of events that leads to their undoing. This production opens, however, with something not in the original: a video of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with their daughter playing games and smiling in the park on a warm day. On the stage, dark figures carry the dead body of their daughter to its grave, while the parents wrestle with their pain. The stage goes dark and the play begins. This suggests a root cause for the central pair becoming totally unhinged through the narrative. It also suggests the depth and seriousness of the production itself.

This is a “modern” interpretation of a seventeenth century masterpiece. Shakespeare’s language is all there, but daggers become automatic rifles for example. Of course, the obvious metaphor of the overambitious Macbeth and Lady Macbeth compared to a famous couple who shall go unnamed is there, but the interpretation is much more complex, much richer and more indefinite than the obvious. Is Macbeth the Republican Party? Is he America as a whole? Macbeth and Banquo wear contemporary desert fatigues through the entire play. Have we become a perpetually militarized people? Did the death of the power couple’s daughter symbolize a kind of death of innocence post-9/11? None of this was resolved by the play, just suggested, which makes for excellent theater.

Earlier I called this “Tanner Maroney’s Macbeth” because I suspect this was his baby in every sense of the word. He serves as set designer, director and Macbeth himself. He must have spent hundreds of hours with the text, probably long before this production was even on the drawing board. No other actor here had as much comfort and facility with the language as did Mr. Maroney. He played the role as a deranged soldier, and I found myself wishing Macbeth had more human dimension to him, but this was Mr. Maroney’s call. He gnashed his teeth and contorted his face continuously. He delivered the “tomorrow” soliloquy beautifully. His stunning performance perhaps was the source of my stomach ache. By the end, I was in love with him.

Lilja Owsley was fine as Lady Macbeth, but she was lacking something. There seemed to be a dissonance between the actress and the role. She seemed uncommitted somehow, unwilling to let herself be taken over by Lady Macbeth, so she was acting instead of being. That’s OK, I couldn’t have done what she did.

Robert Leng as Banquo was excellent. Heinley Gaspard, Morgan Price and Carter Scott Horton made great witches, slinking about the stage giving the whole production a feel of dark foreboding. Carter Scott Horton was exceptional as the assassin. He looked like an assassin, and he had a sinister, blank quality to his demeanor that made me hope I never meet his character in real life.

The set design didn’t distract from the play. It supported the intent of the modern interpretation, but it was somewhat uninspired. The chairs and desks for example didn’t say anything other than “purely functional.” The video was superb and contributed a lot to the production. The costumes were great with never a mistake; they enriched the production greatly.

Overall, I wish this production well. It was never heavy handed in it’s metaphor and symbolism. Everyone delivered their lines well, which can be a problem with Shakespeare. The entire production lived up to Shakespeare’s profundity and seriousness. As long as you don’t think theater should always leave you whistling a happy tune, this play may be for you."