Sunday, January 07, 2001

Shakespeare Festival close to hitting mark with 'Macbeth'

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's a blood-and-guts Macbeth at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, and it points an accusing finger at the chaos of our world through the rise and fall of the ambitious Scottish warrior.

        Director Drew Fracher knows what he wants: to grab us by our throats and pull us out of our comfort zone into the chilling waking nightmare of a world gone mad. He succeeds so well that by the drama's end on opening night, he had pulled the majority of the audience out of their seats in a standing ovation.

        He was so close to creating an unforgettable production that even as one applauds what is onstage, one regrets what is not.

        This is a Macbeth with a soulless vacuum where its center should be. Oh, for an ambivalent Macbeth, torn between ambition and conscience. Oh, for a deliciously manipulative Lady Macbeth who doesn't discover her own conscience until it's too late.

        Neither Giles Davies nor Anne Schilling is up to the complexities of their roles, although both fall into near-mesmerizing madness in the second act.

        Macbeth is the Bard's non-stop action tragedy that moves full-throttle from the moment warrior hero Macbeth runs across a trio of weird sisters and discovers their prophecies offer a good excuse to allow latent, devastating ambitions to surface.

        It's a good fit for Mr. Fracher, whose expertise as a fight director and affinity for physical performance partners well with the festival company's energy.

        The production opens to air-raid sirens and the rapid-fire ping-ping-ping of automatic weapons. In the background, soldier/terrorists round up the enemy and execute them on the street. In the foreground, a trio of crack addicts whisper sweet somethings in Macbeth's ear.

        You will be king, they tell him. What better reason to engage in a methodical bloodbath to assure the crown and a reign of terror?

        For the play to work as the tragedy it must be, Macbeth has to walk onstage already conflicted. Mr. Davies doesn't embody that which could set a previously moral man on a disastrous course. Instead of being a villainess worthy of legend, Ms. Schilling comes across as a nouveau riche shrew.

        So until the second act, Macbeth's many pleasures are to be found in everything else: its testosterone; Mr. Fracher's ability to scare the bejabbers out of us and make us very glad we don't live in the police state he's created onstage; in his delight of John LeCarre Cold War overtones and backroom political shenanigans.

        We enjoy the strong supporting performances festival regulars have come to expect: Brian Isaac Phillips, Nick Rose and Jeremy Dubin in a variety of roles; Corinne Mohlenhoff strung out and sexily trashed as the lead witch.

        R. Chris Reeder is distinguished as the doomed king, although he doesn't differentiate his other roles enough from Duncan. Too often it seems like the dead king is haunting scenes where he isn't supposed to be.

        Once the Macbeths shed the shackles of sanity, the second act plays like a roller-coaster ride, one with loops and tunnels that take you by surprise and steal your breath away.

        Ms. Schilling rises to the brief sleep-walking scene. Mr. Davies, who has a marvelous physicality, pitches himself into the witches' seductive drug dreams and careens spectacularly into madness.

        Macbeth will sweep you up with its visceral power. What it doesn't do is make this man's downfall matter.
       @tag:Macbeth, through Feb. 11, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, 719 Race St., 381-2273.


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