Macbeth – It’s Reigning Men (?)
Okay, here’s what you’re going to need to do: you’re going to need to find a friend who has a car. Or get an Uber or raise a million dollars and take a cab, or whatever, but get your ass out to Fallston. And while we’re talking far, let’s raise a glass to our brothers and sisters out in Howard County, get me? You think it’s hard to get people to come to shows in the city? Try it in Annie and Hello Dolly! country. But you’re gonna want to hustle this time, because BOOM Theatre Company is doing some great shit out there. You probably took AP English, you know how this kicks off. Some awesome witch hags (Ryan Nicotra, Jacqueline Cast and Samuel Pollin) start prophesizin’ right before ol’King Duncan (Addie Cannizzaro) gets some good news – his men, Macbeth (Samy Hayder) and Banquo (Erin Curran) have won a war. Macbeth and Banquo run into the witches on the way back, and they say something interesting: Macbeth is going to attain high royal rank, even monarch, and Banquo is about to sire himself some kings. Both sort of side-eye this until some of the king’s men (presumably with their horses) say that Macbeth has, indeed, gotten a promotion. Macbeth gets a little more curious about that “king” thing but his wife, Lady Macbeth (Dustin Horsman), is super into the idea. She nags Macbeth into moving it along by stabbing Duncan, which he does and then blames on some poor saps who happen to be nearby. The old king’s sons run and Macbeth is crowned wherein he promptly has a grip slip and goes…ah…a little paranoid. He has Banquo offed, but is frightened when his goons fail to kill the son. The crazy new king then orders execution of the wife and children of Macduff (Lisa Davidson), a rival to the throne that he also got deets from the witches on. They’ve told him that he can’t be defeated by any man born of woman and that he’ll be safe until the forest comes to his castle. He’s like, shrug, everyone comes out of crotches and trees can’t walk, so cool. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and outdamnspotting all over the place and finally kills herself. Macduff is rightly a little angry that Macbeth has killed his entire family and gets the blood lust. Also, Malcolm (Anthony Chanov), Duncan’s son, has been rumbling around in England and, let’s just say that Macbeth crucially overlooks some basic medical procedures and also shields are made from wood. That’s the bones, but here’s the skin – this Macbeth, once you get past the fact that it’s being performed in a church and initially looks like you’re going to be enjoying some fine liturgical dance, is the most awake, alive and vital Shakespeare I’ve seen in years. Why? Three main things: the pace, director Ryan Nicotra’s incredibly thoughtful cross casting and Samy Hayder’s titular performance. There are a million other little details that are exciting, too: the title cards that flash up with a slightly grindhouse tint, the “hipsters going to a Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow party” costumes, the fact that Nicotra manages to find the assets of a truly labored space, the flashlights the actors use to great campfire ghost story effect. But those three are the legs of the table. This Macbeth clocks in at just about and hour and, unlike some other radical cutting I’ve seen, does not feel rushed or truncated. It’s a cliffhanger, brave and bold, true to the spirit of the original, which is Shakespeare’s shortest. The gender fluidity of Nicotra’s casting choices makes the lines jump and squeak. It is motivated, modern, sensible and totally purposeful; the opposite of a gimmick. It points up the fact, suddenly, that Macbeth is partially about the performance of gender. When the bearded Horsman kneels and pleads with God to “unsex me”, when the witches, two of whom are men, one with facial hair, are told they “look like women, but your beards keep me from believing that you really are”, when Macbeth literally entreats his men, several played by women, to “put on manly readiness”, you see it, you really see it. This theme, of gender becoming flexible in the face of ultimate control, is carried through with the choice of Samy Hayder for Macbeth. I have been a fan of Hayder in the past and now I’m signed and sealed in love with him. My patience to see him truly break out has been richly rewarded. A slight and gentle man with eyes full of confusion and fire, he isn’t your grandmother’s Macbeth. Hayder is no brute and he plays the part as a delicate soul grown hard as a black diamond by the heat of powerlust. The contrast between his trembling body standing under a naked light bulb, vulnerable and horrified, after his first murder and the growl of his voice as he spits “There is blood upon your face!” at his minions after one much later is electrifying, horrifying. Hayder makes me want to listen to him even when I know what he’s going to say. Fucking terrific performance and not even the only one. I was incredibly impressed by Lisa Davidson, zir Macduff is intensity in twelve cities, whip hand, burning with grief and fueled by passion. Erin Curran turns in a pleasingly boardroom bitched version of Banquo (with an especially literal interpretation of “gory locks”) and Anthony Chanov channels a bit of Braveheart ablaze into the warrior Malcolm.
THE BOTTOM LINE: I’m no great big fan of the bard and even less so of the tragedies which can, so often, feel, well, tragic. Boom Theatre Company has made a big bang with their Macbeth, though, which casts a spell to bring this bitch back to life. Radical casting, extreme efficiency and smoking performances make this a long drive to a must see. Get thee fucking to it.
Running at The BOOM Theatre Co. until May 23rd
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