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PHOTO BY LEE A. BUTZ Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, played by Ian Bedford, left, and Susan Riley Stevens, respectively, succumb to their lust for power in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of PHOTO BY LEE A. BUTZ Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, played by Ian Bedford, left, and Susan Riley Stevens, respectively, succumb to their lust for power in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of "Macbeth," through Aug. 3, Main Stage, Labuda Center for The Performing Arts, DeSales University.

Theater Review: A dark and stormy 'Macbeth' at PSF

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Macbeth is one dark dude.

The sleek, modernistic set, post-modern costumes (no pumpkin tights in sight) and stark lighting illuminates the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival production of "Macbeth," through Aug. 3, Main Stage, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley.

In Shakespeare's monumental "The Tragedy of Macbeth" (circa 1606), there seem to be few, if any psychological explanations, nature-nurture or otherwise, for Macbeth's lust for power. There are no misdemeanors in his crimes. He's consumed by power. As is the moral with cautionarry tales about tyrants, the power, and the forces swirling around it, consumes Macbeth. He's one mean, lean killing machine.

You know things are not going to go well when Macbeth (Ian Bedford) dispatches the affable Duncan (Carl N. Wallnau), King of Scotland, early on. The killing is offstage. The blood on Macbeth's hands is onstage. Duncan's sons, Malcolm (Jacob Dresch) and Donalbain (Kevin Riddagh), flee for their lives.

Macbeth has only just begun his bloody reign of terror. Next, at the behest of Lady Macbeth (Susan Riley Stevens), Macbeth has Banquo (Anthony Lawton) murdered.

As if that's not enough, Macbeth's murderous minions (Dave Scheffler, Leo Bond, Andrew Goebel) slaughter Lady Macduff (Deanna Gibson) and her son (Dylan Boyd) and daughter (Gabriella Slak).

That heinous crime seals Macbeth's doom. Macduff (Perry Ojeda) rallies the forces, famously bringing "Great Birnam Wood to Dunsinane Hill."

PSF Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy, who directed PSF's "Macbeth," has stripped the tragedy down to its essentials. The minimalist presentation makes us pay attention, providing few distractions (those pumpkin tights) from the weight and horror of Macbeth's dastardly deeds. Mulcahy strips the stage bare to focus on the wonderful language.

The interpretation by Mulcahy, also the play's fight director, is at times akin to experiencing a heavy metal rock concert, bringing to mind AC/DC's song lyric, "dirty deeds ... and they're done dirt cheap."

There's nothing cheap about Macbeth's misdeeds. He and Lady Macbeth pay an incalculable cost, as do the victims they lay siege to. Mulcahy makes PSF's "Macbeth" a parable for all seasons, all tyrants, all nations.

Scenic Designer Bob Phillips has conceived what appears to be three rows of four black chain-mail sheaths symbolizing the layers of Macbeth's mind, emotions and duplicity.

Lighting Designer Thom Weaver sends rock-concert spotlights of white light across the stage, looming large Macbeth's shadow on each side of the theater at key moments. Smoke effects enhance the show's emphasis on the mysterious and macabre. Swashes of red amplify the mayhem.

Sound Designer Matthew Given creates a soundscape similar to that of a motion picture soundtrack. The music, more accurately sound effects, enhance the actors' emotional distress.

Costume Designer Lisa Zinni puts the play's characters in "Mad Max" movie meets black biker-bar duds (lots of high black boots, leather, and silver accoutrements), with perfectly ghastly rags for Banquo's Ghost, and "riot girl" punk-rock attire of shocking-pink and flaming-red wigs, hippie-style sunglasses slinky costumes for the three "weird sisters."

Bedford is a towering Macbeth, resolute in motion, nary a trace of remorse for his murderous actions. That is, until it's too late. Bedford renders the iconic "tomorrow and tomorrow" speech ("full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing") in sotto voce. Bedford wraps the words in the resonance of regret.

Riley Stevens is an intensely willful Lady Macbeth. She creates a woman who's the very heart of avarice. Her performance is nuanced, warm of voice and with charming physicality, so that when Lady Macbeth washes imaginary bloodstains from her hands, you almost feel sorry for her.

Wallnau is a sprightly Duncan. Dresch is an enervated Malcolm. Lawton is a wiry Banquo and a frightening Banquo's Ghost. It's Ojeda as Macduff who provides a strong yet sensitive counterpoint to Macbeth's madness.

As the punk priestesses, Deanna Gibson, Suzanne O'Donnell and Eleanor Handley, are fine witches. They at once project attraction and repulsion.

PSF's "Macbeth" is like that. It's has the thrills and chills of a good horror film. You recoil even as it pulls you in.

"Macbeth," through Aug. 3: in repertory with "Lend Me A Tenor"; "Prologues" 45 min. before curtain; post-show actor talk-back July 24; "Scotch Sharings & Pairings," 6 p.m. July 24, 26, Aug. 1; "Savoring Shakespeare" dinner, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 2, 3; Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Main Stage Theater, Labuda Center for The Performing Arts, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley. pashakespeare.org, 610-282-WILL