All hail Macbeth, the play with almost as many famous lines as Hamlet:
“Screw your courage to the sticking place.”
“Is this a dagger I see before me?”
“Out, out damn spot."
“Dagger of the mind.”
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.”
“Life is but a walking shadow."
“A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
All of these cultural guideposts can be clearly heard in the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Macbeth, currently running in repertory with Twelfth Night. The lines are special not only for their clarity, but for their relevance to the story. When characters soliloquize in Macbeth, they’re not just acting; they’re genuinely trying to figure something out.
Artistic director Carmen Khan’s production delivers an impressive urgency of its own. From beginning to end — and with little, if any, cutting — and action drives forward. Nobody dawdles here — not even the drunken Porter (Macbeth’s only funny character, played by Eric Van Wie).
Rob Kahn as Macbeth makes a strong leader, yet one with a streak of doubt and anxiety that requires his wife (Annabel Capper) to push him into action. Ultimately he’s a rock that cracks, while she’s a motor that runs down — Lady Macbeth practically shakes with excited ambition when she first reads her husband’s letters about the witches’ prophecy that he’ll be king. Their inevitable defeats are appropriately visceral.
Supporting Macbeth and his Lady is a capable ensemble of actors mostly playing multiple roles. John Zak makes a more affably human King Duncan than most, and later he returns as stentorian general Old Siward. Van Wie plays Macbeth’s ill-fated friend Banquo. William LeDent makes a stalwart Macduff, with Elise Hudson doubling as his lady as well as a witch (along with Julia Jensen Ray and Sarah Stryker). Alexander Eltzroth, Michael Gamache, Deaon Griffin-Pressley, Josh Kachnycz, Adam Kampouris, and Jenna Kuerzi fill the stage with a variety of well-drawn characters.
Director Khan foregoes flashy directorial flourishes but puts her stamp on the production in interesting ways. When a ghost appears at a banquet, only Macbeth sees him – we don’t. Unlike most productions, Khan’s final act is devoid of generic battle moments; the fights that are shown (staged with metal-clanging violence by Michael Cosenza and LeDent) are significant to the story.
The design work is likewise understated but confident and clear. Bethanie Wampol’s basic wooden set functions ably for Macbeth (and must serve Twelfth Night equally as well). Vickie Esposito’s costumes suggest the military and royalty, especially the king’s magnificent red robes, without overwhelming the actors. Michael Lambui’s lighting uses the upstage wall well, and helps make the witches’ scenes appropriately spooky. Blood effects are used sparingly, but with great and horrible purpose.
This is a fine Macbeth for all, whether Shakespeare veterans like me (I’ve lost count of how many Macbeths I’ve seen) or newcomers trying to shake off their high school fear and loathing of Shakespeare.
What, When, Where
Macbeth. By William Shakespeare; Carmen Khan directed. Through May 21, 2016 at Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St., Philadelphia. (215) 496-8001 or http://www.phillyshakespeare.org