Why do people commit evil, and once they have started, why can’t they stop? Now, as always, it is a question worth asking. Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, is an exploration of this perennial and perplexing query. By focusing on the emotions of the characters, Director Jordan Friend at 4615 Theatre provides a compelling investigation of this very relevant theme. Instead of imposing a high-concept directorial interpretation, Friend has opted to let Shakespeare be Shakespeare. It proves to be an intriguing choice. I urge everyone to make the trip to Silver Spring to see this spirited production, performed in rep with Moira Buffini’s Dinner through the month of August. Staging is in the round, and Friend makes the most of the intimate setting.
The Three Witches–Alani Kravitz, Linda Bard, and Morgan Sendek–appear in long robes, their eyes hidden, brandishing staffs which look like tree branches and wearing ropes around their necks. There is dimness, interspersed with the flashing of lights. Macbeth (Jared H. Graham) and Banquo (Joshua Simon) enter swathed in dark costumes. The unforgettable prophecy scene begins. The costumes have a medieval look, and combined with the sounds—cello, wind, the croaking of ravens–suggest a well-fortified castle in a shadowy, mysterious land.
Graham’s Macbeth is a youthful warrior, who has just led a significant victory over Norway. At the outset, he hesitates to kill Duncan and take his place as king. But he is famously persuaded otherwise by his wife, as played by Charlene V. Smith. We see a young, ambitious man, in over his head, and a woman whose malevolent nature seems as natural to her as breathing. Macbeth cannot bear his wife’s implication that his scruples are due to cowardice. He is convinced that in his case the act would not be criminal but the fulfillment of a vow. He is destroyed by doing what he believes to be expected of a man. Paradoxically, we share in his guilty imagination.
Smith and Graham form an interesting contrast. He is strikingly straightforward, even as he falls apart. She is a bundle of contradictions; apple-cheeked and smiling one moment, armed with icy fury the next. Together they are powerfully appealing.
Steve Lebens as Duncan is both kingly and sympathetic. We should hate what is about to happen to him, and we do. In the beginning, Banquo and Macbeth appear to be good friends. This makes Banquo’s fate even more horrifying. Joshua Simon as Banquo is particularly effective in the banquet scene when he appears to the desperate and increasingly unbalanced Macbeth.
Director Friend is well-served by his gifted and versatile cast. Tim German stands out as Macduff—he has some of the most challenging scenes, and he delivers them with originality and passion. Brendan McMahon is engaging as Malcolm, the hope of the future for Scotland and a worthy replacement for Macbeth.
Charlene V. Smith’s rendering of Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking speech is an acting tour-de-force. She avoids the trap of acting “crazy” and instead commits fiercely to this tortured soul’s every action. Her Lady Macbeth is a first-rate interpretation of a notoriously difficult role.
The doubling of the cast works exceptionally well, and the ensemble deserves credit for their individual work as well as their cohesion as a group. Alani Kravitz (Lady Macduff) and Katie Abramowitz as her daughter have a touching scene. The Scottish Lords, Ross (Linda Bard), Lennox (Nahm Darr), Menteith (Charlie Cook), and Angus (Jack Russ) perform admirably in their somewhat generic roles. James Allen Kerr is an amusing and rambunctious Porter.
The music (composed by Jordan Friend and performed live by Linda Bard (cello) and Nahm Darr (setar) is exceptionally lovely. Sound Design, also by Friend, is wonderfully evocative. Lighting Design (Dylan Uremovich) and Scenic/Props Design (Brian Gillick) are perfectly suited to the production. Costumes by Benjamin Weigel are curiously reminiscent of the Watchers on the Wall in Game of Thrones. The Fight Choreographer, Matthew Castleman, merits special mention for his creative contribution. All the elements combine to give the impression of a cold, lonely Scotland, much loved by its inhabitants but currently under siege.
One of the joys of theater is that instead of on the screen where we see every detail, we’re given just enough specifics to spark our imaginations. This Macbeth does just that. Don’t miss it.
Running Time: Two hours, plus one 15-minute intermission.
Macbeth, presented by 4615 Theatre Company, plays through August 19, 2018, at the Highwood Theatre — 914 Silver Spring Avenue in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 928-2738, or order them online. Macbeth is performed in repertory with Dinner which opens August 3, 2018.