Macbeth Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre

by The Theatre Spy

Getting stabbed in the back. What a witch.

Getting stabbed in the back. What a witch.

​One loud and startling crack of thunder and immediately I was transported into Alan Stanford’s dark and twisted Macbeth. Mr. Stanford employs a very stylized concept for this production and it is present in everything – the set, the costumes (designed by Michael Montgomery), the lighting. The dark browns and blacks of the costumes match the craggy rocks of the set which was designed (by Michael Thomas Essad) to look like The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland – a rocky cliff built by cooling basalt that resembles stepping stones and is the source of several Irish folk stories about giants. This neutral palette is punctuated by small, electric punches of blood red. Perhaps in deference to the upcoming holiday, there are many eerie lighting effects (brilliantly designed by Cat Wilson), coupled with effective use of fog. If you’re looking for something spooky (and this Theatre Spy almost always is), you could do a lot worse than this production of Macbeth.

Although, what is perhaps the smartest decision of all in this production cannot be attributed only to Mr. Stanford. War and the casualties of war are important themes in this play and there simply must be fighting on stage. The fighting is crucial in this play but to have a bunch of guys banging around on the stage at each other with their obviously plastic swords would be insincere and insulting.  As the fight choreographer, Mr. James Fitzgerald slowed down time, allowing us to see every movement and expression. I know it sounds silly. Grown men on a stage, wearing what looks kind of like a dress, going at each other in slow motion. It sounds like a gag. However, it was done so artfully utilizing fantastic sound, light, and fog cues. The actors handled it beautifully (for the most part), utilizing the moment to hone in on the rage and fear. Most importantly, it allowed the audience to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. This one choice elevated the production into a category of its own and showed a real respect for the intelligence of its audience.

Okay, now that we have all that out of the way, let’s just go straight to the witches. They are brilliant and Mr. Stanford employs them to the best of his and their ability. They enter the play moving slowly, almost as if they are dancing, and they manage to keep this up for the entire show. They chant and sing, their voices intoning together in an unearthly manner. There are no moments here one sister stands out and that is a very good thing. That’s not to say that they don’t each have a moment of their own in which to shine but it all flows together and they stay in sync to help create the feeling that they are clearly not of this earth. There are several times during the show that Mr. Stanford pulls them back on stage, even though they don’t have a scene coming up just to make sure we don’t forget about them. It creates a sense of unease and Mr. Stanford seems to intuit just when the audience was beginning to feel comfortable again.

Macbeth is a play about ambition, the lust for power, and the consequence of influence. As the title character, David Whalen more than pulls off the difficulties in portraying the paranoia and overwhelming madness. His best moments are the one of regret immediately after murdering Duncan and the acceptance of his fate at the play’s culmination. The character is extremely complex but Mr. Whalen accepts that complexity and even attempts to add to it. He does so very admirably. He seems to understand that the play is called Macbeth for a reason and he must be equal to that. The language almost never eludes him and he does an exceptional job of embracing the moments that Shakespeare gives the character.

Equally enthralling, if not more so, is Gayle Pazerski as Lady Macbeth. The audience’s introduction to the duplicitous woman is a simple reading of a letter but when Lady Macbeth begins to plot the death of Duncan, Ms. Pazerski immediately turns on a diabolical nature that brings the audience right along with her. Although she did have a couple stumbles with the language, they never threw her and she stayed right in the play and in the character. She managed to keep Lady Macbeth from being a caricature but never underwhelmed us.

If I had any criticism to give, it would be in the casting and performance of Macduff. He becomes a fulcrum in the second act, tipping the scales against Macbeth. As such an important character, who is equally incensed and destroyed at the loss of his wife and children at Macbeth’s hands, Patrick Jordan lacked maturity. His shock and rage at his family’s murder was wholly unbelievable. Also, he seemed stuck in a particular facial expression that was equal parts overdone acting and Grumpy Cat. It didn’t work. Not even once.

The best part of this production is clearly Mr. Stanford’s experienced guiding hand. It is obvious to this viewer that he has directed this show before because it contained an elegance that was evident from the set, to the costumes, to the highly stylized concept. It all just worked and it worked well. As a servant to the play, no one could have done it better. I felt transported, even though it was not a historically accurate portrayal. I wanted to be swept away and I was. He creates some of the most haunting and beautiful tableaus that I have ever had the fortune to witness on a stage. They followed me home and invaded my dreams but in the best way possible.

​As a very sarcastic and occasionally cynical Spy, I’d like to tell you about all actors who had difficulties with the archaic language and the moments that got lost or flat out didn’t work. I could do that, in fact. I am the Theatre Spy, after all. But I won’t. Those issues are so few and far between and rarely took away from the play so I won’t spend any time on them. The point is simple: you need to see this show. But you’d better hurry. Macbeth is closing on October 25th so grab yourself a ticket before it’s too late!

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