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Theatre Review Print

Theatre in the Park's Macbeth Is a Multimedia Feast for the Eyes and Ears

February 7, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:

In the first few seconds of the opening scene in Theatre in the Park’s current production of Macbeth, a surveillance helicopter circles overhead, ripping the time compendium as well as ripping King Duncan (tonight played by Robert Martin) out of his reverie. It is only the first of many moments that muddle the timeframe of the production, which spreads out across more of the TIP stage than has been evident recently. For this production, TIP has pulled out all the stops, and created a monster of a set that includes a multimedia screen and a full soundtrack, combining music by Vangelis with thunder and drum rolls. 

In the large black box that is TIP’s main stage, the audience takes up about one-third of the current layout. The rest of the huge room is the massive set, going fully back to and beyond the bare back wall. In that wall is a pair of huge doors, the opening of which spells doom for some one or other character. The completely black setting is augmented stage right by a draped screen which is the only means by which we can meet the shades that predict Macbeth’s fortune. Scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson completes his macabre set by use of a huge pentangle, to which Lady Macbeth (Lynda Clark) actually gives worship in her first scene(!). This is but a sampling of the dark and evil surroundings in which director Ira David Wood III places the action of the Bard’s Scottish Play.

The cavernous set, however, has a malevolent result that was not counted upon, in that it muddles human speech, and makes it very difficult for the audience to understand what is being said unless the cast is speaking directly to us. Further, much of the speech is accompanied by rolls of thunder or drums, further dampening the actual words. For those not already familiar with the plotline of the play, this is a bit troubling. For those of us steeped in the legend, however, enough comes through with enough clarity that we are not at all lost.

For his own part, Macbeth (David Wood) is clear and clipped, and gives us the many different emotions that this Thane-cum-King is heir to. Matching him onstage with sound and fury is his wife, Lady Macbeth (Lynda Clark), whose desires he allows to sway him and his own sensibilities. But what this particular production emphasizes is an ensemble play, using multimedia and music to drive and augment the action.

TIP director David Wood fits the entire work into a swift two hours, and dips into our own subconscious and pulls the audience inexorably along with it toward the terrible doom that is etched into Macbeth’s fortune. We are caught up in the action and thrill to a horror story that is as much as Shakespeare ever intended, and then some. But the thrill is not so much driven by the text as it is by the overall evil into which Macbeth is thrown. We are caught up, as is Macbeth, in the thrill of the chase, the blood of the battle, and the call of the temptation. We can no more stop ourselves than can Macbeth himself.

Because it has such a central role in the action, it is necessary to speak of the multimedia screen. We not only see the three witches of Hades here; we also witness film as the three make their predictions for Macbeth’s benefit. The film, which is the work of videographer Will Mikes, gives us frightening images, as well as the closeness of hand-to-hand combat as Dunsinane is overrun by its enemies. This reviewer was, at first touch, disappointed to see that the witches were filmed rather than live, but the effects that were evident later in the play indicate the necessity. A witch that can appear and disappear at will is difficult to pull off, live.

TIP’s Macbeth is to the original script of Shakespeare’s play almost like a movie is to its original novel. But the creative aspects of TIP’s production make it a most interesting work, laying on new and different aspects of the evil and predestination of the play. It is a work to get caught up in, like a movie and, as such, it is a feast that beckons to the eyes and ears.

See our theatre calendar for the listing of performances.