Sunday, September 14, 2008


I don't know where to start.

I guess, with the fact that I am no sort of expert on Shakespeare; reading, staging, understanding or analyzing. I'm just a community theater maven who loves to see a great story well told.

I saw that today.

I had not been to the Long Center before this, and the Rollins Theatre is a very nice space. It's a 200 seat black box with a nice sized stage and about a gazillion lighting instruments. There are lights EVERYWHERE for this show. I had to look under my seat to make sure there wasn't one there!

The program announces: "Austin Shakespeare Presents MACBETH, A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE," and that's no lie.

The minimal set consists of two platforms, dressed with woven bamboo, with bamboo poles resting against a black curtain. In front of that and on the sides of the stage hang great swaths of lightweight clear plastic strips that suggest both rain and mosquito netting. Four simple chairs face center from both stage right and left.

At rise (well, really, at "lights up"), the stage fills up with soldiers fighting hand to hand, in jungle camo and olive drab fatigues. The combat is well staged, and sets the mood perfectly.

All the actors love and cherish Shakespeare's immortal words. I heard patrons at intermission criticizing the pace--some thought the actors were speaking too slowly. Maybe it's a function of age (I listen slowly), but the pace seemed just right to me. I hate to hear those words rushed. Suffice it to say that I understood every one of them.

The actors blew me away. They brought a play that is frequently done in a very "stagey" manner right into my lap.

When Lady Macbeth receives Macbeth's letter via text message, you know it's coming down home! And, when Macbeth comes in the door, he's home from the battle, with the usual reaction of a soldier. I felt as if I was in their living room.

Marc Pouhe and Sharron Bower, as the Thane and his lady, bring the characters firmly into the present day and into our hearts. The entire cast did justice to the story; each and every one of them was totally believable.

...And the witches! Oh, the witches! They are like creatures from another world, with voices ranging from hiss to howl, and movements that owe something to modern dance, African dance, tai chi, and the wind in the grass, they are without a doubt the best witches I have ever seen. Anywhere. In or out of "Macbeth." I want to be them when I grow up. I want to wear their clothes, too.

Which brings me to Macduff. I have always wanted to play Macduff, because I had never seen it done right. Now, I have. Ben Wolfe knows this man, and knows grief and the accompanying anger, something with which I have some small acquaintance. Never mind being able to cry! Ben, as the kids say, you RAWK!

The lighting design is huge and marvellous. The music, edgy but not obtrusive. Costumes, excellent, in a modern "ponsa ponsa time" sort of way.

All major set pieces (read; furniture) are wheeled on. There is one bit of staging that doesn't work for me, and I asked the director about it in the question-and-answer session after the show. For the massacre of Macduff's family, a large shower stall comes on, and the murder of Lady Macduff takes place in there, with "Psycho" music underneath. Ms Ciccolella said that she wanted a modern association of absolute horror, which I can understand. Problem is that the image has been bastardized and parodied so much that there were snickers in the audience when people realized what was happening. As well as that, the thing has to be oversized to accomodate four assassins and Lady Macduff, and, until it's used, is sort of the elephant in the living room. Never mind that the Lady (Gwen Kelso) is wearing an unflattering bathrobe throughout the scene.

However, that's the only thing I can find to criticize, and that's minor, compared with the overall brilliance of this production.

See it if you can.

Playing in the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center until september 21st.

Austin Shakespeare

A further footnote on anachronisms.

I don't really see anything in this play as an anachronism. Shakespeare, by all reports, did his plays in the modern day. Even plays set in medieval Europe were costumed as contemporary--Elizabethan and Jacobian England. Hence our tradition of costuming them that way. After all, it fits with the language.

A lot of things have changed in theater since Shakespeare's day--allowing women on the stage, for one thing. I like to think the Bard would enjoy the fact that his plays are still being performed, and are still making sense to modern audiences.


  1. Totally off top. I've been worried about you. Every time I turned on the news, I thought "Jeez, I hope Ronni's okay".

    My geography is bad, but when I heard that Ike was as big as Texas....that was enough to worry me. So glad you're alright.

  2. It never came this far inland. We didn't get so much as a drop of rain. It got a little breezy there for a while, but that's about it. It's almost as windy today, and a lot cooler than it was when Ike came ashore. It actually veered off to the east more than they orininally thought it would. Houston got hit pretty hard, but Houston is several hours from here.

  3. Ronni -- thanks for pointing out the Psycho connection. It has been so long, I didn't make the connection; just saw a rape and murder in a shower.

    I like your review very much!

  4. Rape? I missed that!

    Thanks, Michael. I looked at yours after I wrote mine, but before I added the bit about anachronisms.

    You had mentioned the term, and I had to really think about it. The question of what is and is not an anachronism in Shakespeare is a very interesting one.

    Your review is in much more depth than mine. I enjoyed it very much. Folks, click on Michael's name and scroll down a bit to see what he says about the show.

    Personally, I think we both did better than the newspaper!