‘Macbeth’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a bloody good way to baptize the company’s new theater space

Macbeth is the inaugural production of the Annapolis Shakespeare Company in its new home in Studio 111 on Chinquapin Round Road, Annapolis.

 Stephanie LaVardera, Brit Herring, Renata Plecha, and Vanessa Bradchulis. Photo by Joshua  Joshua McKerrow.
Stephanie LaVardera, Brit Herring, Renata Plecha, and Vanessa Bradchulis. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Bloody good – and filled with bloodied scenes, Macbeth is a must-see show in the ongoing evolution of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

Its premier performance of Macbeth was sold out, due in equal parts to the superb cast and the direction of Producing Artistic Director Sally Boyett, aided by Production Stage Manager Sara K. Smith.

The four-year old theater company has staged its shows at several venues in the area since its founding, and will continue to explore new stages – including an outdoor courtyard at an Annapolis tavern from May through September in 2015.

Their  new theater is a small black box on the bottom level of an office building in Annapolis’ Design District. Its stage is a simple black pad, similar to those used by gymnasts. The stage area is rimmed on three sides by two rows of chairs, seating 53. A corner, stage right, held the equipment of the light and sound technician. Staging was spare. There were no sets – just those of our imagination. No smoking witches’cauldron, but we surely saw one. The only props were wood and metal stools carried on and off stage by the actors.

Actors appeared or disappeared in the tiny space through a curtain, stage left, or by moving behind the audience and entering or existing through the main door.

Overhead was a battery of lights installed by Preston Strawn and his father Steven Strawn, the husband of Janet Luby, Artistic Director of the Bay Theatre Company, currently on hiatus.

Bay Theatre has generously loaned Annapolis Shakespeare its collection of lighting and sound equipment, salvaged from its former space on West Street. Preston Strawn, working with stationary white, amber, green and red lighting, was able to subtly adjust the lights to the ongoing scene.

One would hardly expect more than rudimentary sound effects in such a small theater, but Gregory Thomas Woolford Martin, the composer/sound director, created a seamless fabric of sound to surround the actors: hypnotic drumming at key moments, crickets or owls when characters were out on the moor, spooky sounds when the actors were in the presence of the Weird Sisters. Awesome.

Costume Designer Maggie Cason envisioned the cast in modern times, instead of medieval dress. Actors prepared for battle wearing trench coats with epaulets attached that suggested a little bit of chain mail. Shin guards worn by several characters also continued the chain mail theme. A creative bit was the transformation of the Weird Sisters into royal guests at a banquet in Macbeth’s castle simply by flipping their witchy wraps out from under the collars of their costumes.

Several characters carried, and used, heavy steel swords, worn strapped around their waists during realistic fights precisely choreographed by Amy Pastoor. More war gear was suggested by the wearing of matte grey motorcycle helmets.

Rebecca Swislow and Brit Herring. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.
Rebecca Swislow and Brit Herring. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

One off-note in the costuming was a royal robe worn first by Duncan (Kim Curtis) and, later, by Macbeth (Brit Herring). Obviously hand-made, the damn thing desperately needed a good, professional ironing. Two threads trailing from a back seam were a distraction. Costume angst aside, the ensemble of twelve thespians put on a seamless show with no interruption in the flow of The Bard’s immortal words. Ten actors portrayed numerous roles, including one portraying five characters, seemingly peopling the stage with more characters than audience members.

The actors were passionate and in-your-face and, often, nearly in the audience’s laps during fight scenes and passionate moments. Actors often spoke their lines directly to an audience member, enhancing the intimacy and emotional impact of their words.

Brit Herring’s performance as Macbeth was top-notch; it was painful to watch his descent into madness. Rebecca Swislow, as Lady Macbeth, successful portrayed the scheming, manipulative and, finally, suicidal spouse. When they first interact onstage, their embrace is passionate. He clearly loves her and is under her spell.

The witches, Renata Plecha, Vanessa Bradchulis, and Stephanie LaVardera, known as the Weird Sisters, were the first characters onstage, weaving what would become a brew of murderously accurate prophecies. LaVardera, perhaps due to the excitement of opening night, was unnecessarily loud in this and all the roles she played. Vocal coach Nancy Krebs needs to work with her to dial the volume back several notches. Otherwise, it was a pleasure watching LaVardera (and several other actors) flip into and out of their multiple roles at lightning speed.

Brian Davis as Banquo had the permanently cocked right eyebrow and demeanor of a warrior who shares in the good tidings of the witches’ predictions with Macbeth, only to be murdered on orders of his friend.

Michael Crowley gives a strong, but understated, performance in his primary role at Macduff, the ultimate victor. Kudos, also, to the other members of the ensemble: Renata Plecha as First Witch and the doomed Lady Macduff, and James Carpenter, Will Hawkins, Brendan Kane, and Brendan Edward Kennedy.

At the show’s conclusion, the bloody, severed head of Macbeth was still on the floor when the actors took their bow. With a grin, Herring plucked “his” gauze swathed head from the floor and carried it offstage. Even at the curtain call Annapolis Shakespeare Company was on a roll.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes. including a 15-minute intermission.

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Macbeth plays through November 23, 2014 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at Studio 111 -111 Chinquapin Round Road, Suite 114, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or visit them online.

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Wendi Winters
Wendi Winters is a writer, reporter, columnist and photographer - and a former NYC public relations executive. A good portion of her career has been in public relations - backed by solid experience in fashion retailing, wholesaling, textiles, marketing, advertising, design and promotion. She owned her own successful fashion public relations/advertising/special events/runway show production firm for seven years. As a journalist, she was the first freelancer to bring a journalism award home to The Capital - and then earned two more awards. Since May 2013, Ms. Winters has been a full time staff member at Capital Gazette Communications. Prior to that, she freelanced for the company for twelve years. Including her three weekly columns, she writes more than 250 articles annually. Her writing byline has appeared in Details Magazine, What's Up? Annapolis Magazine, and numerous others. She's been a feature writer for Associated Press Special Features and for Copley News Service. For years, her fashion critic columns ran in the NYC weeklies Manhattan Spirit and Our Town. Since moving to this area in 1999, as a D.C./Baltimore-area theatre critic, her reviews appeared in Theatre Spotlight and The Review. Plus, she was a Helen Hayes Awards nominator for two terms. Mother of four, she continues to be active as a Girl Scout leader and a regional church youth advisor. You bet she can make a mean S'More!