Shakespeare’s Scottish Play is back, in streamlined form, as The New American Theatre debuts Macbeth: Revisited, and if the newfangled title suggests a more radically rethought Macbeth that this one actually is, director/star Jack Stehlin and his company of actors do indeed deliver the bloody goods.
The trio of men dressed in black robes, red sashes, and clerical hats who stare out at the audience even before the play has begun (and then transform themselves into Shakespeare’s Three Witches) suggest that there will be gender-bending ahead, a perception confirmed by the arrival of Jade Sealey’s Malcolm, Susan Ziegler’s Banquo, and Varda Appleton’s Ross (and later Frannie Morrison’s Fleance and Jenny Lerner’s Donalbain).
In other words, if Shakespeare didn’t give Macbeth but one truly great female role, The New American Theatre makes sure to rectify that with a cast evenly balanced between the sexes, a single glance at Kitty Rose’s contemporary black costumes (trousers for male roles and skirts for female) making it immediately clear who is playing which gender.)
Trimmed of any dialog deemed excess, Macbeth: Revisited runs a brisk ninety-five minutes, one scene morphing seamlessly into the next, and minus most props save a few daggers (and with only red-satin slip-covered straight-back chairs surrounding Robert Broadfoot’s otherwise bare set), Stehlin’s Scottish Play places the emphasis on Shakespeare’s words throughout.
Having previously delivered what I described as a “towering performance” as Titus and played Prospero as “a raging force of nature,” Stehlin gives us a Macbeth worthy of both descriptions, and Vanessa Waters as his Lady Macbeth is equally superb.
Not only does Waters have a terrifically maleficent voice, there’s some sizzling sexual chemistry between her and Stehlin, and her “Out damned spot” soliloquy stands out for its subtleties as much as for its madness.
Brendan Brandt, Dennis Gersten, and Jordan Lund’s Three Witches make for a stunning Greek Chorus (and carry their witchy personae into their additional roles, Brandt as Seyton, Gersten as Bloody Sergeant and Second Murderer, and Lund as First Murderer and Doctor), and their caldron scene (performed minus actual caldron) proves the production’s most memorable, combining voice and music and movement and amplified unearthly breaths.
Appleton, Chelsea Brandt (Gentlewoman), Lerner, Morrison, Cesar Sebastian (Macbeth’s Attendant), David Purdham (Duncan, Porter), Mark Richardson (Lennox), Elise Robertson (Lady Macduff), Sealey, and Ziegler all prove themselves masters of both character-building and iambic pentameter, and Macduff’s palpable grief at his family’s death makes Patrick Vest a supporting cast standout.
Macbeth: Revisited’s rouge-et-noir motif proves particularly striking in its use of blood-red accessories (a satin scarf for a bleeding wound, satin gloves to represent hands soaked in blood), effects enhanced by lighting designer Derrick McDaniel’s dramatic use of crimson.
Still, if there’s any design star deserving of special mention, it’s John Farmanesh-Bocca’s extraordinary sound design, one that mixes otherworldly voices and breaths, scene-setting effects (crickets, wolves), and almost nonstop musical underscoring, striking, mysterious, haunting, sometimes almost imperceptible, that ultimately reflects Macbeth’s increasingly twisted state of mind.
Farmanesh-Bocca scores points as choreographer as well, from the slain pile of soldiers who turn into writhing demons in hell to the production’s grand guignol finale. (Indeed if there’s any complaint to be made, it’s that there’s not enough of the Titus/Tempest-Redux’s director’s choreography this time round.)
Uncredited makeup design turns living beings into subtly nightmarish ghosts. Kitty Rose is properties designer. Nick Pavey provides additional sound effects and Elise Robertson special prop fabrication and design. Vest is fight captain and Sealey is dance captain.
Macbeth: Revisited is produced by Jeannine Wisnosky Stehlin. Jonas Newhouse is production stage manager and William White is assistant stage manager.
Both innovative in style and respectful of its source material, Macbeth: Revisited provides ample reason to revisit a classic.
The New American Theatre at The Second State at Sacred Fools Theatre, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Through May 13. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Reservations: 310 424-2980
April 8, 2017
Photos: Jeannine Winosky Stehlin