Reviewed by Patrick Wood
Significantly truncated but brimming with sex and blood, Macbeth resurfaces this month at the Roust Theatre Company, ready to shock and eager to please. If the extensively choreographed fights, prolonged scenes of torture, full-frontal nudity and pervasive fornication are any indication, director James Phillip Gates has his sights on an audience more inclined to revisit their Shakespearean studies over Jagerbombs at a club than a night at the theatre. His intentions—to shockingly emphasize the baser human instincts running rampant in Shakespeare’s jet-black tragedy for a contemporary audience—are both admirable and ambitious. Unfortunately, this Macbeth’s comment on the downfalls of ambition extends to the production itself.
With performances that ring false and a vision too vague to bring insight into its imagining of the text, Roust’s Macbeth cannot justify its envelope-pushing approach. If the plan is to stage a great many graphic rape scenes, they need to serve a dramatic purpose: instead, it’s like being bludgeoned with an oversize hammer.
Trey Ziegler’s performance as Macbeth inopportunely mirrors that of Arrested Development’s pathetic Tobias Funke. Ziegler looks the part, with his bright red hair and devious grin, but fails to breathe any life into the Scottish king, gesturing and intoning without the kind of clear, specific decisions that connect a performance to the emotional realities of an audience. Tracy Hostmyer’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth as a vulnerable, selfish sexpot hints at the resonance Gate’s imagining could have had, but for the most part the cast is disconnected. Watching these actors emote even when they’re silent in the background brings to mind the seriousness of the phrase “acting is reacting.”
In setting his Macbeth in an indistinct time and place, full of guns and swords, retro military uniforms and modern sports jackets, Gates follows a well-tread path of recent Shakespeare revivals without adding anything to the clear message that these events are timeless in their origins. As realized, the interpretation lacks the clear voice (the vision of a universe that can immerse us) necessary to elevate the production beyond simply looking like a show made from tag sales and costume shops hit by the recession.
Toward the end of the play, moments arise that hint at a communal sense of humor, an acceptance of the absurdity of the production. The audience laughed, the actors looked like they were actually having fun, the entire room breathed a sigh of relief. For a few brief minutes, everyone could enjoy themselves without the fear of offensively staged sexual violence masked as important theatre. With a heavy dose of camp, this whole affair could have been a damn good time.
[MACBETH] (100 Minutes, No Intermission)
[Roust Theatre Company] (311 West 43rd Street)
[WED-MON @ 8PM] (through December 6)