‘Macbeth’ at Annex Theater by Amanda Gunther

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Something wicked this way comes as Annex Theater presents the Bard’s most cursed production, Macbeth. Directed by Evan Moritz, this gender bent production of the classic tragedy has women interspersed in the male roles throughout the production but none quite so important as the title character. A fresh new take on allowing talented performers of all genders to embark on the journey of madness, corruption, greed and fate; a riveting new look at Shakespeare performed intimately in the faces of the audience.

Lady Macbeth (Sarah Jacklin). Photo by  Sarah Gretchen.
Lady Macbeth (Sarah Jacklin). Photo by Sarah Gretchen.

Costume Designer Kelsey Gocio compensates for the simplistic set design by incorporating various shades and colors of plaid into everyone’s outfits. From Macbeth to Macduff and all the characters in-between, there are aspects of the stereotypically Scottish pattern for everyone. The other unique accent that Gocio brings to her design work is the use of metal washers on the men’s costumes. Stitched into the doublets, vests and shirts, this little pieces of metal allude to the notion of armor; great warriors bedecked in the idea of something strong; an appropriate symbolic representation for this production.

Video Artist Ben O’Brien brings the dark magic of this bloody tragedy to life with his various projection designs. Playing in a narrow and angled space may be great for audience intimacy but it does not leave much room for special effects and spectacle. O’Brien tackles that challenge successfully with his creative use of ghostly projections. The effects used for Banquo’s ghost as well as the cauldron scene with the three witch sisters are particularly haunting.  O’Brien also uses a good deal of shadow play against the screens that are situated on either side of the A-frame audience seating. This creates a heightened sensation of ominous foreboding throughout the production.

Director Evan Moritz is a visionary when it comes to the Bard’s great Scottish drama. Not only does he take things out of the normal realm by gender-bending the cast but he incorporates thematic elements on a deeply intense level that really draw the more poignant notions of the play to the audience’s attention. One such is the theme of ever-present evil, that evil is really just the monster within us all. Moritz achieves this symbolically by double-casting the witches and interspersing their presence throughout the production. Not only are the three actors who play the witches appearing as servants and other members of the cast, but they shift— violently at times— from being in the scene as an alternate character to their witch character. It is astonishing to watch because it is a literal reminder that evil is forever lurking at the edges of reality; ever-present in the existence of the play. When the witches are not lurking onstage they can be heard offstage making their unearthly hisses and cackles at key moments, terrifying the audience with their sudden sounds.

Moritz further explores the boundaries of his creative vision by delving deep into the madness of Macbeth. Choosing to stage the plotted scene where Macduff and the others plan to overthrow him with the character present creates an extremely intense and hostile environment. The twist here being that as Macbeth watches the scene unfold, even going so far as to attempt to clang swords with those plotting his demise, it becomes painstakingly clear that this scene could be viewed as a vision— that Macbeth is seeing the prophecy unfold before his eyes, that the audience is seeing inside of Macbeth’s head. A truly twisting moment that brings a rigorous spark of creative genius onto the stage.

As mentioned, the witches play a key part in this production as they drift in and out of nearly every scene. Played by Cordelia Snow, Lucia Treasure, and Jacob Budenz, this trio of grisly ghouls fits the bill when it comes to chanting ill of the fated Macbeth. Budenz in particular is the one to keep your eye on, his distorted slinking physicality making him something truly grotesque to lay eyes upon. And during the scene where he doubles as Macduff’s son Budenz gives a stellar performance playing the naïve youth whilst being dually possessed by his witch character. The trio make this production even more tragically intense than it seems just by the simple creepy glances they cast across the stage and the way they make unnatural sounds with their voices.

With a great handle on acting the drunkard, David Crandall showcases his knowledge of iambic pentameter with ease. Playing the bloodied sergeant at the beginning of the production and then the drunker Porter, Crandall is an exceptionally seasoned performer with a working understanding of how to fit Shakespeare’s vernacular and particular style into those fleeting comic moments in this otherwise dark story.

Though only briefly encountered after the intermission, Macduff (Rjyan Kidwell) is an extremely important turning point to the production. At first appearing to be a bit of a stoner, with the purposefully slow speech and the aloof presence, Kidwell quickly makes it known that his character means business when facing off with Macbeth. The sheer anger and fury that reign his voice in that scene are utterly terrifying.

And tremble mere mortals at the hands of fate, in this case Hecate (Gina Denton) who proves once again that hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned. Unleashing her scorn on her minions for not being included in the prophecy foretold to Macbeth, Denton reminds us a little of Maleficent in this moment, fury burbling beneath the surface at missing the big event. And when it comes gushing out her whole body moves like a demon possessed, voice matching in pitch and volume; a rather frightening sight to behold. Add to that her maniacal laugh and you’ve got a recipe for one pissed witch.

Macbeth (Sophie Hinderberger). Photo by  Sarah Gretchen.
Macbeth (Sophie Hinderberger). Photo by Sarah Gretchen.

Tying for best performance in this production is Lady Macbeth (Sarah Jacklin) and Macbeth (Sophie Hinderberger). The pair is truly gifted set of performers who bring a wealth of emotional expression to their characters, Jacklin in particular, and they carry the show’s essence upon their shoulders.

Hinderberger as Macbeth make a stunning example of sheer madness, right from the beginning we’re given the inkling that all is not well inside the mind of the madman. She allows the insanity of the character to slowly infuse into her physicality, constantly rolling her fingers like a nervous tick, her body slouching in on itself as the play progresses. Her emotional outbursts are frightful and vocally explosive; often shouting at the top of her lungs to express rage, always underscored by that lingering lunacy that makes for a deeply dynamic character. The intensity with which she approaches the iconic tyrant is nothing short of show stopping; a well crafted performance if ever there was one.

Matching Hinderberger’s energy throughout the performance, Jacklin gives a stunning rendition of the madman’s wife. Combining a fierce fury with a savage lust for both her husband and control of the situation Jacklin commands the role with a ferocious tenacity the likes of which would do the Bard proud. Forever plotting, letting that unsettled existence echo through her physicality as she paces, Jacklin’s speeches are piercing, poisoned as black as soot with her sharp tongue as she delivers some of the most recognizable lines in the Shakespearean cannon. Together she and Hinderberger grab the attention of the audience and kept them on the edge of their seats ‘til the gory bitter end.

So screw your courage to the sticking post, and get thee a ticket to see that cursed Scottish play, it may yet play a while longer, so long as there is tomorrow and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission.

Macbeth plays through June 9, 2013 at Annex Theater at The Chicken Box – 1 West North Avenue in Baltimore, MD a part of Station North Arts and Entertainment Inc. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the door.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.