How many times can you watch "Macbeth" and still get something out of it?
Well ... how many times can it be produced?
The American Shakespeare Center has brought its traveling version of Shakespeare's shortest and, arguably, gloomiest tragedy to the Blackfriars Playhouse stage and, as always is the case with the ASC, there are fresh interpretations and inventive staging techniques that breathe new life into an oft-performed drama.
Like all ASC productions, this tale of witches, prophesy, assassination and warfare has few frills other than some great costumes. It relies on the energy and talent of its actors and the vision of its director to entertain its audiences, and for the most part it succeeds.
For those who don't know the story, Macbeth is a Scottish hero who makes a glorious homecoming after having been victorious in battle against Norway. But three witches seduce him into believing that he is destined to become the king of Scotland and that no one born of woman can stop him.
His wife, Lady Macbeth, talks him into murdering the king and others, but he is soon haunted by the ghost of one of them (Banquo). Ultimately, Macbeth meets his end at the hands of the good Macduff — a man who was not "born of woman," but who was "ripped untimely" from his mother's womb.
Director Jim Warren wisely cast Jonathan Holtzman as the regicidally ambitious Macbeth. Holtzman has considerable stage presence and infuses his character with a force so sinister, yet conflicted, that — as he wades through the blood of his victims — we revile him but can't take our eyes off him. From the instant he makes his first appearance, battle-clad and imposing, we know we are in for a treat. And Holtzman delivers it.
Much has been said, here and elsewhere, about Macbeth and his ambition. But let's face it. The guy probably would have preferred a plate of haggis over the throne of Scotland if it hadn't been for his manipulative wife. So we have to believe in her powers of persuasion.
Denice Burbach gives it to us in spades as perhaps the most alluring, openly sexual Lady Macbeth in ASC history. Yes, she plays it as though she's appealing to Macbeth's ambitions, but she also makes it plain that she's leading him around by something other than his nose. Burbach and Holtzman make it well worth your while to see this version of "the Scottish play."
Rick Blunt, an audience favorite at ASC, gives a strong and compelling performance as Banquo, and the multi-talented Chad Bradford is Macduff, the man who finally brings down Macbeth. The cast of "Macbeth" also includes Natasha Solomon, Brandi Rhome, Kelly McKinnon, Daniel Jimenez, Aidan O'Reilly, Dennis Henry and Jake Mahler.
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