“Macbeth” Gets Bloody Good: Part II

Presented by Liars & Believers
Directed by Jason Slavick
Original Music and Sound Design by Jay Mobley
Additional Video by Sam Powell

June 18, 2020 – Present (Weekly)
View – https://www.liarsandbelievers.com/show/pandemicplay/
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Review by Gillian Daniels

ZOOM – When we last left our antiheroes, Macbeth (Jesse Garlick) found his ambitions for the throne awoken by three, soothsayer witches (all played by Rebecca Lehrhoff in different registers and Instagram filters) and Lady Macbeth (Rachel Wiese) decided to do whatever was in her power to climb the hegemonic ladder and stomp on every person who got in their way as bloodily as possible. Betrayal has yet to visit ruin and mental anguish on their lives.

Instead, all the Macbeths seem to hear is the siren call of power. Neither yet understands that their pursuit of the crown will lead to any drawbacks whatsoever and that they will be touched by terrible consequences. Obviously, this will all turn out just fine and everything will end up great! (Spoiler: IT WON’T.)

“Episode 4 – Face and Heart” gives us a contemporary Inverness Manor as an upscale house, perhaps a condo like the ones found in Union Square. We see the shape of this home in a tight establishing shot and then in fragments behind the actors. In this moment, I found myself missing shared stages, sets, and acting spaces more than I have since the pandemic began.

Macbeth debates taking the life of Duncan (Bob Mussett), “whose virtues will plead like angels” should the assassination be attempted. His soliloquy is brought to an awkward halt by the appearance of Lady Macbeth who he greets with a slack-jawed, “What news?” as the music is abruptly cut. In split screen, Lady Macbeth goads him into action, questioning his manliness. In one of the most famous speeches of Shakespeare’s canon, Lady Macbeth describes that her ambition is such that she would happily murder a child nursing from her breast to further her goals. Tight close-ups communicate her frustration and growing brutality.

I was thrown out of this installment by the fact the shadows on the unhappy couple’s faces don’t quite match, because, of course, they are not face to face much less at the same house. This bothered me, but the performances are, indeed, very good. The combination of music and the passion of Garlick and Wiese in their roles sell the reality of the world sufficiently.

In “Episode 5 – The Bell Invites,” we are treated to grainy footage of Banquo (Rosie McInnes) struggling with the memory of the soothsayer witches and their dark promises. While Macbeth’s confidence has been doubled by Lady Macbeth’s counsel, Banquo is distressed and unable to articulate the growing dread that suffuses Inverness Manor.

“Is this a dagger I see before me?” Macbeth asks, reacting to a hallucination with an eerie calm. As he begins to question the logic of the world around him, his slide into psychopathy has officially begun. Garlick’s growing sureness in the role, in this moment, is stunning. Clever editing superimposes his face over itself, suggesting his growing egomania and his inability to see past his own immediate desires. The contrast between this Macbeth and the character we met in earlier episodes is crushing. Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, discovers a sliver of her conscience in the way Duncan suggests her father’s presence. Weise successfully finds depth in her character’s guilt.

I felt a chill when I saw Garlick and Weise’s hands wet with blood. Director Jason Slavick outdoes his previous episodes with this segment. Of the three I’m reviewing in this post, I found Episode 5 the strongest of the batch.

With the most recent episode of Liars and Believers’ production, “Episode 6 – Knock, Knock,” we hit the show’s comic relief, the Porter (a distracted and belligerent David Markansky), as he swills Pabst Blue Ribbon and chomps Doritos. His musings are robbed of any ambiguity by adding images of public figures like Rudy Guilliani and Steve Bannon over his comments. Though it’s meant to be timely, it left me wondering how well this particular episode would age. I also think the clip art of demons and cartoon chickens is misused here and exaggerates the tonal dissonance between this episode and the previous ones.

The rest of the installment, however, falls more closely in line with the general mood of the series as Macbeth awaits the discovery of Duncan’s corpse. Macduff (Glen Moore) is the one who finds the bodies and reports it to the rest of the household, which includes Lennox (Evan Turisini), Malcolm (Ben Heath), Ross (Noah Simes), Banquo, and a shocked, shocked I say Lady Macbeth. Here, Slavick, Jay Mobley, and Sam Powell are forced to get creative in figuring out how to best suggest more than a couple people in the room. The results are fascinating and an absolute must-see for other theater producers attempting similar projects in lockdown.

In the midst of week six of the series, it’s odd to realize we are still in Act II of the show! We have not yet descended to the excruciating depths that murder and political intrigue will visit on the Macbeths, but we are well on our way. I hope the contemporary twists on this political melodrama and creative editing continue to illuminate rather than obscure the themes of the show. Expect my next review in about a month!

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