Thunder, Lightening, and Rain: MACBETH

Credit: Brown Box Theatre Project

Credit: Brown Box Theatre Project

A play by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kyle Taustin
Presented by Brown Box Theatre Project

August 22 – 31, 2014
Various outdoor venues around Boston

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Around Boston) Look, you just can’t beat free outdoor Shakespeare. A picnic basket, a good friend or two, and the immortal words of the sweet swan of Avon resounding amidst mother nature’s glory is just where it’s at, folks. It’s particularly poetic to see Macbeth, a play about the slow descent into the darker parts of man, performed under deepening darkness.

Brown Box Theatre’s production is a solid one (and I strategically went on the night that they performed under the battlements of Fort Independence; outdoor Macbeth… at a CASTLE!). In the grand old tradition of traveling players, they use what they have to great measure. A simple set provides levels, visual interest, and a backdrop for the play, along with a continuing metaphor about death that I’m loath to spoil in this review (it’s very cool though, you should go see it!).

The ensemble’s performance was solid all around: Alex Marz really brings the house down as the dread lord of Scotland (Macbeth); Jeff Marcus’s Macduff is enthusiastic and believable; Marc Pierre stood out in the role of Ross (which, by the nature of the play, is actually pretty difficult to do).

The only actor that didn’t fit with the rest was Marge Dunn as Lady M. Unfortunately, her performance was lacking in that she had no grace with the text and mistook volume for emotion. She’s actually quite a good actor, she just has no experience with Shakespearean language (and it really showed… much to her discredit). Dunn could have done with some serious text coaching.

The fights by Conor Olmstead were lackluster. While the actors were enthusiastic, Olmstead struggled to choreograph group fights which amounted to more than simply one attacker stabbing while the other two wait their turn. There was also a fair deal of “mind reader” fighting (a personal pet peeve, I will admit) in which the defender has their block in place long before the attacker has moved to strike. This kind of sloppy fight work muddles the story of the violence.

While the violence was muddy and opaque, the results were certainly not. This production put forth the best interpretation of Banquo’s ghost that I’ve seen in some time. Because, at this point in the show, darkness had set in, the ghost was able to come and go almost casually and unobserved by the audience who was preoccupied with watching Macbeth lose it in front of his dinner guests. Additionally, the witches’ conjuring scene was one of the best I’ve seen put forth onstage. Taustin utilized a simple device to make the most of what he had, and it was extremely effective. I mean, really, where are you going to produce an armed head or a bloody child from in the context of outdoor theatre without it looking like a big ol’ cheese fest? Taustin solved this problem gracefully, and in a way that was both creepy and satisfying.

Speaking of creepy, the knocking scene had an added creep factor due to Tuastin’s Silent Hill sensibilities. With this, Brown Box demonstrates their own conjuring capabilities: how they are able to conjure a mood and an aura of creepiness from the thinness of air (or the bubbles of the earth).

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, I would definitely recommend giving Macbeth a go. Despite its flaws, the production is worth seeing; and you can’t beat free!

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