Elijah Alexander and Jules Willcox deliver powerhouse performances as Macbeth and his Lady as A Noise Within presents its latest excursion into Shakespeare territory. By contrast, Larry Carpenter’s direction proves considerably less impressive.
Admittedly, director Jessica Kubzansky’s take on The Scottish Play for Antaeus two years back (and my first exposure to Shakespeare’s tale of multiple murders and guilty consciences) is a hard act to follow, Kubzansky having staged Macbeth with such clarity of purpose and execution that even this reviewer—hardly the world’s greatest Shakespeare fan—found himself mesmerized.
Unfortunately, much of daytime-soap vet Carpenter’s vision for A Noise Within left me scratching my head, from a design concept seemingly without clear notion of time or place (despite a great big map of Scotland onstage at times) to certain questionable casting decisions.
To be sure, the supporting ensemble deliver all-around solid performances, and the director’s decision to rainbow-cast the production—Abubakr Ali as Ross, Leith Burke as Banquo, Feodor Chin as Malcolm, David DeSantos as Macduff, Lawrence Fernandez as Angus, Mitchell McCollum as Lennox, Erin McDonnell as Duncan’s Guard, Matt Orduña as King Duncan, Katie Pelensky as Donalbain and Lady Macduff, Lucas Dean Peterson as Duncan’s guard, and Seven Pierce-English as Fleance and Macbeth’s servant—is worth a tip of the hat. Still, I must confess to frequent confusion as to just who was who.
Amin El Gamal, Jeremy Rabb, and Thom Rivera, too, are as good as it gets, and the witch puppets constructed by Sean T. Cawelti and manipulated and voiced by El Gamal, Rivera, and Rabb prove a fun new take on those “bubble bubble toil and trouble” gals.
Still, when a playwright has written so few great women’s roles that a Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company exists to rectify the imbalance, it seems a dubious choice to have deprived three grand dames their chance to sorcerize. Add to that the fact that El Gamal, Rabb, and Rivera play multiple male and female supporting roles and additional confusion ensues.
As for the meaning behind flashlights shined blindingly full-beam into unwitting patrons’ eyes and pistols that show up only a few times as if from another play, I must admit, I didn’t get it. (On the other hand, the transformation of the Macbeths’ victims into an ever-increasing number of white-faced stage presences does hit the dramatic mark, as does a triple-dagger effect.)
Fortunately, at the heart and soul of this production is the dynamic duo bringing the Macbeths to gutsy, heartrending life.
As action-hero hunky and glamour-girl gorgeous as the Thane of Glamis-turned-Thane of Cawdor-turned-King of Scotland and his partner in murder have likely ever been cast, Alexander and Willcox demonstrate classical acting chops in what may well be the finest performances of their careers to date. Alexander’s transformation from upright to unscrupulous is gradual and seamless and stunning. Willcox digs deep into the ruthless, rapacious Lady M, her voice coming from some bottomless pit of grief transformed into greed and ultimately into insanity and a mesmerizing mad scene to match the best of them.
I don’t understand Carpenter’s design concept, though it’s hard to find fault with the quality of work being done by scenic-lighting designer Susan Gratch, costume designer Jenny Foldenauer, sound designer Cricket S. Myers, hair, wig, and makeup designer Caity Hawksley, and prop designer Cawelti, and if bare-torsoed soldiers seem ill-protected, they do make for considerable eye candy for those with a sweet tooth for such things.
Ken Merckx gets top marks as always for his fight choreography. Elna Kordijan is stage manager, Sarah Poor assistant stage manager, Adam Roy assistant lighting designer, Daniel Czypinski production manager, and Maria Uribe head stitcher.
Ultimately, though A Noise Within’s Macbeth does not match the excellence of this past fall’s Pericles, Prince Of Tyre or its previous incarnation at Antaeus, there are two very good reasons to catch one of Macbeth’s remaining performances on the ANW stage, and their names are Elijah Alexander and Jules Willcox. They above all make this Scottish Play worth a look-see.
A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.
April 24, 2104
Photos: Craig Schwartz