He Who Shall Not Be Named
by The Pittsburgh Stage Magazine
There’s a superstition in the theater world that saying the word “Macbeth” in a theater will lead to something bad happening to the production, rumored because real witches cursed the script. So either the PICT Classic Theatre company was very careful in their rehearsal process or the superstition is a load, because they delivered a great production of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy that definitely doesn’t seem cursed.
Director Alan Stanford has done a terrific job staging Macbeth in a way to appeal to a modern audience. The setting is described as “a barbaric land in the distant past” rather than simply “Scotland” and the beautiful set reflects that. It is very barren, with a few rocky platforms and a ghostly staircase for the characters to climb around on. It’s a good “less is more” approach to the setting, and Michael Thomas Essad’s set is aided wonderfully by Cat Wilson’s intense lighting. All this is combined with solid sound design and music by Elizabeth Atkinson to perfectly capture the feel of every scene and build tension when need be.
David Whalen plays our antihero Macbeth. Now I’ve seen David Whalen in a lot of things (I think I see him more times a year than my father) but Macbeth is probably the meatiest role I’ve seen him play. He does a terrific job with it too, starting off as a seemingly normal and kind man but eventually falling to his desires and subsequent guilt. Whalen gives a great performance, finding some humorous moments in an otherwise dark play while also delivering on the character’s emotional downfall.
The phrase “behind every ____ man is an even ___er woman” probably came fromMacbeth. Lady Macbeth figures show up in all sorts of stories today, like Claire Underwood from House of Cards or Lucretia from Spartacus. Lady Macbeth gets a lot of flack for being an evil influence on her husband, but whether you agree or not it’s clear she loves her husband dearly, supports his goals, and has the strength to help him out when he starts questioning himself. Gayle Pazerski plays Lady Macbeth here and does a great job opposite Whalen. Her final scene is really fantastic as Lady Macbeth begins to finally lose control, accentuated by more intense lighting that shows how her guilt has taken over her body.
Michael Montgomery’s somewhat dystopian costumes are awesome-looking but do provide a few drawbacks. The male costumes are essentially the same for every character, with a few subtle differences here and there. That effect worked well for soldier scenes, but when it came time to recognize the named characters I struggled a bit. I’m familiar with many of the actors in this show, and everyone did a wonderful job, but it’s tricky for me to single anyone else past that because I had trouble telling everyone apart. Although I will give a shout out to Martin Giles’ hilarious portrayal of the drunk Porter, one of the few comedic scenes in this very heavy play.
The trio of Witches are considered one of the best elements of the play, and here that is a definite truth. Erin Whitcomb, Lily Davis, and Cassidy Adkins practically float around the stage, utilizing their flowing costumes as they scamper and climb around the stage. Most of the witches’ dialogue has been turned to eerie songs, which are also used efficiently for scene breaks. Karen Baum is creepy as head witch Hecate, but her skin-tight pants and boots don’t really blend in with her fellow witches and make her look like she belongs in a modern-day superhero movie.
I think the trick to doing modern day Shakespeare is to find a balance between not boring an audience but then also not trying too hard to make it appealing. PICT’s production does manage to find that balance: it’s very intense and very dramatic, but also somewhat simplified. Excellent direction, great acting, and beautiful tech all combine to make a very solid presentation. If you’re in a Halloween mood but don’t wanna watch another re-airing of Hocus Pocus, check out this trio of Witches instead. And if you’re superstitious about saying the name in the theater, I’ve been referring to it as “MacWhalen” instead.