Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Macbeth (Mobile Shakespeare Unit at the Public)

playwright  William Shakespeare
company  Mobile Shakespeare Unit
theater  The Public Theater

Rob Campbell, Keith Eric Chappelle, Jennifer Ikeda, Nicole Lewis, Teresa Avia Lim, Nick Mills, Daniel Pierce, James Udom

director  Edward Torres
set  Wilson Chin
costumes  Amanda Seymour
composer  Michael Thurber
Rob Campbell & Jennifer Ikeda
in the Mobile Shak Unit's Macbeth
Each season, with accessibility in mind, the Mobile Shakespeare Unit strips down a pair of plays and schleps them to under-Shaken New Yorkers—people in shelters, halfway houses, prisons. This rough, gritty Macbeth foregoes the light-footed theatricality and transparent acting of previous MSU work. Instead the company plays in an old-fashioned declamatory style that emphasizes verse over sense and relies on the rhythm to add momentum. A few actors have the resonant voices for this approach—Daniel Pierce (Duncan/Macduff) and Keith Eric Chappelle (Banquo) are particularly easy on the ear—but it cuts against the American style of realistic acting and is tougher for an audience to grasp.

Rob Campbell, in the lead, walks nimbly through Macbeth’s speeches, more of a pensive Hamlet-type than the warrior he’s described as being. Jennifer Ikeda is one of a handful of Shakespearean specialists in NYC but more likely to be cast as Lady Macduff than Lady Macbeth. So, cast as Lady Macbeth, she grabs hold of her opportunity. Her strong, militant portrayal galvanizes her husband and the production. More generally, the company is solid but aside from the witches and Banquo’s ghost, they find few openings to connect with the script or the audience.

The main displays of theatricality come during the witches’ scenes, where prophesies are backed by a scuzzy steel guitar. With its dynamic staging and brisk pace, the show is a little too lean to have its full effect. The speed obscures some fundamental moments, especially the warnings about woods and wombs. This Macbeth is the MSU’s first tragedy, and maybe it shows a limitation of the MSU’s format.
Rob Campbell with Keith Eric Chappelle,
Teresa Avia Lim, Jennifer Ikeda, & Nicole Lewis
in the Mobile Shak Unit's Macbeth

The Mobile Shakespeare Unit's Macbeth runs May 17 thru Jun 7 at the Public Theater on Lafayette.
photos: Joan Marcus

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