The production was overall an expected Macbeth: big costumes, manly cheers, blood (though not as much as I might have liked - it was conspicuously absent in a couple of the murders [SPOILER ALERT: there are a lot of murders in this play]), witches in rags, big swords... you get the picture. Barnes's direction was generally pretty unimaginative, and at times, his blocking managed to completely deflate key moments (why, for example, was Macbeth facing away from the audience when he received the most earth-shattering news of the play?). And though I do love a good trap door as much as the next guy, this one ended up eliciting chuckles from the audience rather than communicating the complete disregard for human life that I think it was aiming for. I would say that this Macbeth felt very much like a production that is built to be performed for high school students (who many artists seem to assume to need spoon-feeding). This assessment was hammered home in the first few minutes of the play as the entire cast processed on stage and announced their roles: reciting the dramatis personae. It was a little condescending to assume that the audience - high school or otherwise - would be unable to figure out who these people were over the course of the next two and a half hours. And let's be honest - after you've named off a dozen Thanes... we've stopped listening.
The pace of the show took a while to get going, but did eventually manage to find a decent stride. And while the costumes and plentiful actors (including the effortless kingliness of Brandy Joe Plambeck's Duncan) did a pretty good job establishing the world of the Scottish court, the supernatural world of the infamous weird sisters (Sarah Hawkins Moan, Danielle Cochrane and Megan Barbour) never quite gelled - perhaps until the final moment of the play. Despite their ragged appearance, evocative lighting, and perpetual writhing and chanting, the witches never quite managed to conjure the level of otherworldly power they needed.
I will say that, among the cast, there were a few stand-out performances. Annie Keris's Lady Macbeth resists the villainous monolith we've come to expect and lends a complexity and vulnerability that provides a richer trajectory for this character than I think Shakespeare originally gave her. Brent Griffith's Macduff is every bit the soldier he needs to be, and his journey through Macbeth's depravities is moving. And undergraduate Michael Fisher delivers the famous Porter's comic relief section with humor and charm, not to mention the specificity that is required to communicate these old jokes to a contemporary audience. In fact, the large undergraduate supporting cast was, by and large, a very positive presence. And let's face it: no one is going to forget the performance of the production's youngest cast member, Natalie Wilson.
Of course, I can't speak about Macbeth without speaking about the performance of the lead actor. Miles Boucher's Macbeth was technically strong, and had some moments of very good chemistry with Keris's Lady Macbeth, but he never quite drew me into his performance. He had a clear understanding of the text and circumstances, and he communicated the events with clarity and skill, but I didn't get a consistent sense of emotional investment - even in the moment of what should have been his greatest loss.*
Max Amitin's attractive set created a strong atmosphere, and made good use of the Hilberry's strange space. And Donna Buckley's lush historical costumes - but for a few pieces of really distracting facial hair - did an admirable job of planting the action in time and place. But the most noteworthy technical element, in my opinion, was Samuel G. Byers's lighting design. Rich colors and an excellent use of darkness provided elegant support for Shakespeare's murky world.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Director: Paul Barnes; Macbeth: Miles Boucher; Lady Macbeth: Annie Keris; Duncan: Brandy Joe Plambeck; Malcolm: Alec Barbour; Banquo: Topher Payne; Macduff: Brent Griffith; Witches: Megan Barbour, Danielle Cochrane, Sarah Hawkins Moan; and others) continues at The Hilberry Theatre, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through October 12th. Tickets range from $20-$25. For more information visit http://theatre.wayne.edu/ourshows.php.
*SPOILER ALERT: I keep dancing around mentioning Lady Macbeth's death...as if that's going to be some huge surprise. This is a Shakespeare tragedy folks. So, yeah, SPOILER ALERT: pretty much everybody dies.