Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Tragedy of Macbeth

My first experience with Macbeth came during my senior year of High School. Unlike some, I usually enjoyed my required reading assignments and I had only just recently discovered an affection for the Bard at that point. I’d seen “Much Ado About Nothing”, I’d read “Romeo and Juliet”, and I’d also read a number of sonnets in passing at the local library. I had also seen the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor version of “The Taming of the Shrew” only a few short months prior, in class, as sort of a warm up to the upcoming reading assignment. None of my prior experience really prepared me for what I’d find in The Scottish Play; witchcraft, murder, betrayal, paranoia, prophecies, and terror. Macbeth quickly rose to become one of my favorites, so I was incredibly excited when Paperwing Theatre announced that production would soon be underway and I sincerely hoped to be a part of it. Real life stepped in, I stepped out, but my wife and a good number of friends held on and went for a ride that opened to a standing ovation.

I will roll my eyes a little here, because I’m sure you already noticed I said that my wife and several friends were involved with the production. In the interest of full disclosure… yadda blah, yammer blah, etc. etc. and on and on. If you think it’s going to be a big deal, then whatever… but if you want to keep reading, go right ahead.

The play opens in explosive fashion, with the last skirmish of a great war where Thane Macbeth has established a reputation through acts of valour and a ferocious skill with the sword. Director Jourdain Barton utilizes a ferocious gothic-punk soundtrack to establish the dark fantasy elements of the show and blends modern styles with history. Patrick Golden tackles the title role with a fever, establishing a steady decline of moral and mental faculties throughout the performance. Macbeth betrays and murders the King in order to fulfill a prophecy delivered by three “weird” sisters met upon the road. The witches promise the lord titles beyond his own, a kingship, and a great future. Golden is a strong presence on the stage, demanding attention with near every gesture and reacting to the story around him with an intensifying madness. He draws the audience in with sardonic humor, intensifying the tragic events by letting us see him as both the assailant and the victim in a series of terrible events. He is a hero, he is a monster, he is a villain, he is a tyrant, he is a madman, and he is a victim of the events that play out. To put it far too simply and without proper justice, Patrick Golden IS Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth is played by Penelope Morgan. I’m struggling right now to describe this performance and offer justice in my own words. She was amazing, but that doesn’t touch the elements of her performance… brilliant, horrifying, sympathetic… all of them are small adjectives that manage to capture small pieces of the performance, but none of them do her justice. She eagerly pushes her husband toward his vile deed, but the guilt begins to gnaw at her… revulsion, disgust, fear, and horror begin to drag her mind toward a dark and terrible place, but none of that description really truly captures it. It has to be seen. It has to be felt. It has to be experienced. Penelope Morgan has always been one of my favorite actresses to watch on the Central Coast, but she manages to broil in this production and serves a justice to Shakespeare that simply has to be admired.

And then there’s Jesse Juarez in the role of Macduff, the reluctant hero and prophesied enemy to the show’s title character. Macduff is the reverse image of our villain, a man driven by loyalty and inspired by his own duty to take a stand against the tyrant. The cost is high, and Juarez delivers an emotionally brutal performance when he is informed to those costs. The audience feels his pain, and old Shakespeares’ language is taken, devoured, absorbed, and released with passion and clear understanding by Macduff. The difficult language comes easy from his lips, the audience understands every word and intent and we are engaged the moment he draws his sword.

Other performances continue to highlight this production, including a number of turns from stalwart performer Jodi Gilmore . He shines as the Porter, he slithers as the first Murderer, and each role continues to solidify the reliability and versatility of this performer who may be one of the hardest working men I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in the theater. Shane Dallmann’s Ross is a selfish snake, but to reveal any more about the character would betray several surprises the story has for a potential audience. Taylor Young takes a number of turns as well, playing a midwife, Lady Macduff, and a small number of other women seen throughout the show. Her scene with Dustin Moore is cleverly played, a too brief moment of innocent teasing between mother and son. Timothy Samaniego captures the audience with his portrayal of Banquo, but a discussion of his character is another spoiler for those who may not know the story.

Macbeth is playing at the Paper Wing Theatre in Monterey, off Lighthouse Avenue. The company has done a terrific job of making the language accessible to young audiences with their performance, though none of it has been “dumbed” down or modified. The actions simply speak volumes to the words of the Great Bard. There are some bloody moments, some acts of cruelty, and I would say the show is accessible to a PG-13 rating… so if parents would like to introduce their teens to classic literature, this is an excellent opportunity to do so. If teens feel the heavy weight of an impending study on Shakespeare, this is the kind of performance to soak the dryness in blood. If you’re a fan of the material, like me, this is definitely the show to see on the Central Coast.

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