Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 27, 2013


Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through November 10, 2013
by Shera Cohen

A woman in the audience at "Macbeth" was overheard asking her companion, "What the hell is she [Lady Macbeth] saying?" The other person did not respond, but neither returned to the performance after intermission. Both did themselves an injustice by, what seemed to be, never attempting to understand Shakespeare's play. Surely, scholars do not "get" every word. It's not necessary to translate 16th century script into 21st century language to fully appreciate "Macbeth" -- one of the Bard's best known, shortest, and accessible plays.

Enough lecturing on the merits of Shakespeare's work. In the case of Hartford Stage's presentation, the merits are extraordinary. Most theatergoers are familiar with this tale of ambition forsaking all else. Macbeth says that he has "vaulting ambition." His wife describes her strength as a "woman on an evil mission." Set in ancient Scotland, Thane Macbeth and his lady chart a swift and evil course to obtain the keys to the kingdom. Soothsayers, in the form of three disgustingly ugly witches (Brava to the young actresses and to costumer designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb), set the look, tone, smell, and color for what will follow in this literally and figuratively dark drama.

The set is essentially bare with sometimes-lit columns in the rear, the clothing is black or grey, the shadows are giants, the lightning cracks deafening. Director Darko Tresnjak has created small rooms and large, castles and forests on the same stage, sometimes simultaneously with a use of a one simple prop. More would have been too much for this production. Instead of the accoutrements, Tresnjak relies on his actors and Shakespeare's words. Never before has a script (almost lyrics) focused so intensely on each syllable.

Portraying the ruthless couple are Matthew Rauch and Kate Forbes. Each is formidable in their roles. Rauch places every sound and body movement into creating a crazed Macbeth. His head ticks, his shoulder edges up, he becomes a man who would be king, yet terrified of himself. In the few scenes where he is absent, one hopes that he will show up to see such powerfully perfect acting. Forbes holds a near-candle to Rauch, also in demeanor and speech.

Doesn't there have to be something "wrong" with this production? Well, it is quite bloody and death scenes (without giving specifics) are over the top. On balance, however, this "Macbeth" is a theatrical gem.