Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "The Scottish Play"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Wednesday, 12 July, 2000: "The Scotttish Play..."

Subject: MacBeth
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 21:04:46 EDT
Did you see Macbeth at Publick Theater?

I did indeed, Pam, a week ago Friday --- but I was of two minds about the show, I had talked perhaps a little too much with the fellow critics I'd seen it with, and rather than write a review that night I fell asleep; rather than write it the next morning I merely mulled it over. Then, Saturday evening after a shower before going to see "Othello" in Newton, as I swished a towel about my lower half there came a lightning-flash of intense pain across the top of my hip-bone, and I could think of nothing else for the next several days.

A couple years ago I figured out that what causes back-spasms is sitting too long in an overly comfortable sofa or chair that curls the back. Everything's fine for almost a day after, until the muscles somehow quit pulling together and fight with one another. Nothing but lying flat for up to two or three days until the warring factions grudgingly make peace does much to help. Nothing much happens until the spine reaches for the vertical and then WHAM, it's flop like a fish time again. This time I thought maybe I could borrow a wheel-chair, but what I got instead was an ambulance ride to Beth Israel hospital, some 800-mg tablets of Ibuprofen and some muscle-relaxers, and a four-legged walker and a cab-ride home late Independence Day. I lay about reading --- it only hurts if you squirm, remember --- in a vague haze of meds (and when you try to go cold-turkey off Flexarill your head feels like it's tossing in The Perfect Storm!) thinking, frankly, about many things except what I feel superstitious enough now to call "The Scottish Play". I can understand why actors who'd prefer not to talk about their memories of it say those words through clenched teeth.

But I feel I owe the people who worked on it some sort of recognition, so here goes:
Diego Arciniegas the director used the groves of trees on either side of the Publick Theatre's audience for the battlegrounds which begin and end the play. This worked best as evening shrouded the castle set on stage, as the dim lights of besieging soldiers turned into a relentless horde of Macbeth's enemies. Earlier, however, the strew of bare-cheated, bloody-bandaged soldiers gave a ragtag feeling to the show. The trio of witches (Nancy Carroll, Stacey Fisher and Birgit Huppuch) came on looting bodies, and then bowed ritually to Banquo and Macbeth who came, oddly strolling through the battlefield and pondering the weird sisters' words at relaxed length. (Have I said here yet that I really detest the play and think it Shakespeare's worst-written tragedy?)

Arciniegas trusts the text, and got clear, meaningful speeches form his actors (something which Terry Hands and Kelsey Grammer didn't). Susanne Nitter, playing both Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff, did an outstanding job. Lady Macbeth provided much of the background and subtext that I find missing in this play. Here Nitter was all fire and resolution, scheming and thinking ahead from the very first, so that the play had a freshness and life.

As her husband, Scott Kealey opted for a more thoughtful stance, less impulsive than wary, weighing every step. As his nemesis Macduff Ted Jackson seemed also a bit subdued, though this was opening night of an obviously under-rehearsed production. (One last-minute substitute read from the script.) And, unfortunately, on that opening night the final battle featured quarterstaves rather than broadswords, and as staged by Robert M. Russo and Clifford Allen of Companie Scaramouche might have been more exciting had they wieled breadsticks.

At this late date, seen through such a long preoccupation with my self rather than my job, only a few odd highlights remain vivid. James Butterfield's King Duncan strode onto the corpse-strewn battlefield erect and in command, and when he walked from battlefield to castle nominating his son as successor all the company save Macbeth looked to him as their respected king, which gave substance to Macbeth's indecision whether to kill him or not. Steve Barkhimer as Banquo and Bill Gardiner in several small roles were, that night, marked for comment, though at this date I cannot call up pertinent details to defend that note. Nancy Carroll, though most of his long monologue was cut, made a surprising appearance as the drunken Porter who provides the only comic turn in this melodramatic mishmash of a play.

At play's end, as Nathaniel McIntyre's Malcolm left the stage to be crowned, he exchanged a meaningful glance with young Gio Gayner, playing Banquo's son Fleance who, the witches said in the beginning, would himself begin a long line of Scottish kings.

That was only one of many flashes of insight from Diego Arciniegas' direction. I apologise to him, and to you, for slighting his work and that of his cast with my dim memories. If I say nothing of the Scottish thanes unnamed here it is more because the script itself denies them any individuality; I have never been able to tell Lenox from Menteth from Cathness from Angus since the playwright gives them so little with which to distinguish themselves. What I can say is, in the setting sunshine beside the Charles, every one of them stood out more clearly and more interestingly than that anonymous mob that traipsed through the Colonial some months ago and died the death with Frasier on Broadway. Let's hear it, once again, for the home team!


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