The Knocking is Coming from Inside the Cabin: “Macbeth”

Presented by the Underlings Theatre Company
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Thomas Blackwell
Fight direction by Lauren Squier
Dramaturgy by Isabel Dollar

April 5 – 13, 2019
Mosesian Center for the Arts Blackbox Theater
321 Arsenal St
Watertown, MA
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Critique by Kitty Drexel

(Watertown, MA) There is much to learn from the Underlings production of Macbeth currently open at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown. The cast and crew took some risks: some of them paid off, others did not. What is most important to glean from this production is that the Underlings boldly proceed towards their artistic goals for Macbeth. Risk taking theatre is by far more laudable than theatre that plays it safe no matter the outcome. Not everyone will agree with the risks that the Underlings took but, at the very least, the Underlings can boast that they performed their version.  

Shakespeare’s Mackers is summarized HERE. One can read the entire thing HERE. The Underlings reimagine the Scottish Play as The Blair Witch Project meets reality confessional documentary meets Shakespearean horror. The camera and projection work a la Jay Scheib captures the band of miserable characters are their worst and transmits their inhumane behaviors to all viewers. There’s more than a few unnecessary deaths, creepy witches, and military men posturing like hunters on a weekend trip. All of it centers around a broken down cabin in the woods.

Take note that this production of Macbeth reduces the original 5-act play down to 2-acts. I cannot respond to what the Underling’s did not perform; I can only respond to what they did. Audience members with stronger opinions than mine on edits, folios, etc. should be warned that this production may inspire in them anger or frustration. Please plan your attendance accordingly.

That being said, the cuts made for time did not retain the necessary plot-fluidity to allow a viewer unfamiliar with the text to follow the play with any certainty. As someone who did their research before attending, I still found it difficult to follow the comings and goings of the many characters entering and leaving the stage. This is partially because the vocal and physical choices the actors made in defining their roles weren’t consistently strong or big enough to read at the back of the small blackbox. Costume changes helped but a jacket can only do so much.

A brief synopsis of each edited act in the program in addition to the full list of roles an actor plays in the cast list will assist the audience exponentially in following the play. As things were, the audience spent some time in confusion rather than focused on Shakespeare’s rich language.

Cassie Foote in the titular role is exceptional. From the moment she enters, she buzzes with a charismatic energy that begins from her eyes and reaches past the last rows of the theatre. Hers is no stoic general. She threw herself (sometimes literally in the fight scenes) into Mackie’s downfall.  Foote first radiates control and then the complete lack of it as Mackie begins his journey of psychotic unraveling.

Unfortunately, Foote shines so brightly as McMackie that she outshines the other actors. This is not because the rest of the cast isn’t working hard but because Foote is radiating high octane energy every moment she’s onstage. Everyone on that stage is delivering their best performances but more conservatively so. The performance is unbalanced in this way.  

The camera and projection design by Elizabeth Gove work. The creepiest, most successful moments of the production integrated its projection in conjunction with Erik Fox’s lighting and Josh Garcia’s sound design into its scenes. Any time the Weird Sisters met Mackie in the forest, we knew that we were in for a spoopy treat. The Ouija Board in Act-Two was a nice touch but underutilized. Whether used as surveillance tech, a confessional letter home, or psychic premonition, the footage successfully layered nuance into our experience.

I love, love, love how well the cast supports each other on (and presumably off) stage. This production is a well-running theatre machine. From the perfectly executed act-two, two-woman lift to the inter-scene assisting of costume removal, this cast cares for the production by caring for each other. These reveals are brief but communicate to us that this cast is wholly committed to each other’s performances and therefore the entire performance. Such thoughtful dedication is rare and greatly appreciated.  

Macbeth is the Underlings’ last production in New England. It’s a shame really, because Macbeth shows us that with more time for development, this theatre will accomplish great things. Seattle will get to see those accomplishments, and we won’t.They’ve already tapped into a younger, more enlightened audience than some of the other fringe companies in the area. That is an accomplishment in itself. Break many legs in your new endeavors!

Dare not speak her name!

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