Here’s a headline that I thought I would never write: "Tony Hefner and Rebecca Blum Sparkle in Macbeth." Hefner and Blum, who are consummate comedians and mainstays of Actors Comedy Lab’s pixilated productions, took a walk on the serious side in Bare Theatre’s Oct. 26-29 production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth at Common Ground Theatre. They tackled the plum roles of Lord and Lady Macbeth with the same gusto, resourcefulness, and absolute conviction that they always bring to their off-kilter Actors Comedy Lab characters.
Tall and bearded, Tony Hefner provided a solid center for director Carmen-maria Mandley’s fast-paced production, which performed the complete First Folio text of Macbeth in approximately two and a half hours, with dramatic original musical compositions by Proxy providing underscoring the nearly nonstop action. The bearded actor obviously relished the meaty role of Shakespeare’s valiant but overly ambitious Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, whom the three Weird Sisters (Nick Fields, Tara Pozo, Nancy Rich) tricked with their equivocal prophecy that he would one day be King of Scotland—and later, even more prophecy that no man born of woman could kill him and that he would rule Scotland until Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane. So, Macbeth murdered his way to the throne, slaughtering his benefactor King Duncan (Dean Rayburn) in his sleep and framing Duncan’s attendants for the crime.
Rebecca Blum gave her all as Lady Macbeth, the utterly ruthless but surprisingly vulnerable queen bitch who fiercely chided her husband whenever a latent scruple or belated attack of conscience surfaced and caused him to hesitate to hack his way to the throne, murder any opposition that materialized after his coronation, and thereafter rule Scotland by fear. Blum’s husband, Seth, gave a nice, full-bodied performance as Macbeth’s erstwhile comrade in arms—and early victim—Banquo; and Nancy Rich was amusing as the drunken bawdy Porter who staggers and stumbles on the way to answer the door when loud knocking shatters the nighttime quiet at Macbeth’s castle—on the very night that Macbeth dispatches Duncan.
Cast as Macbeth’s implacable nemesis Macduff, tall, thin, and lovely Heather J. Hackford does her best to make the cross-gender casting work. But she will always be too tall, thin, and lovely to be completely convincing as a burly warlike male Scot, furiously smiting Macbeth with his sword until he kills and beheads the tyrant.
Indeed, director Carmen-maria Mandley’s boldest experiment to date in cross-gender casting had mixed results. Handsomely clad in an impressive array of medieval Highland garb, beautifully decorated with the relevant coats of arms by costume designer Jeremy David Clos, the nobles in the Bare Theatre cast looked regal. Likewise, the witches and apparitions looked appropriately bizarre. But the more experienced members of the company were more persuasive in bringing Shakespeare’s bellicose characters more fully to life. Overall, Bare Theatre’s Macbeth was an entertaining—if not always completely effective—rethinking of one of the most familiar and often-performed tragedies in the repertoire of English-speaking theater.
Bare Theatre: http://www.baretheatre.org/next.html. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy University of Virginia): http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (courtesy UVa): http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaMacF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobMacb.html (1866 Globe Edition).