Now onstage, in the middle of Boston Common, is that summer crowd pleaser MACBETH!! Commonwealth Shakespeare Company has turned to the dark side this year for its annual production of FREE Shakespeare on the Common. I’d had my doubts about wanting to see this bloody tale of murder, suicide, guilt, betrayal, unbridled ambition, political and marital power plays, and the chaos of war. But this CommShakes production changed my mind, echoing and perhaps providing perspective and an outlet for my frustration and anger at the blind greed and its apocalyptic fallout as I continue to watch tyrants jockey for power and endless wars rage. Ever was it so, but this production provides a glimmer of, dare I say it, hope.
Director Steven Maler has conscripted a potent cast lead by Faran Tahir’s rampaging Macbeth, soon to be Thane of Cawdor and eventual King–all prophesied by a trio of weird sisters. This troublemaking threesome has ignited Macbeth’s ambition, and Lady Macbeth– played by Joanne Kelly–fans the flames. But the tragedy is Macbeth’s own; his inability to resist the temptation of power at any cost sets in motion the mechanism of his own destruction. I wished that Tahir’s line readings were more fluid, more nuanced, and gave us more of a glimpse into the grey areas of his hesitation and internal conflict. He’s at his best when he’s thundering about the stage, as if to convince himself of the righteousness of the nightmare he’s about to unleash.
Kelly as Lady Macbeth, is brittle at first, attacking her lines too deliberately as if to keep track of them. But she finally springs loose in one of this production’s most riveting scenes. Her rendering of Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot” monologue just before the Lady’s final exit is truly frightening; she’s crossed over into a nightmare world from which she can never return and makes tactile the psychological toll of the blood on her hands which cannot be washed away.
The soundscape is marvelous, aurally cueing us to the horror embedded in the world of the play, stoking the rising dread, and finally, ushering us through a smoky portal to a final prophecy which makes clear Macbeth’s ego will strand him at the edge of that transient wood headed for Dunsinane. Indeed, sound, lighting, and scenic design coalesce in this metaphysical moment to potent effect. For most of the play, the set is littered with the ruins and detritus of contemporary war, while the costumes, including soldiers in breastplates, hint at a universal every time. These are warriors modern and ancient, battling over eons for power, no matter the collateral damage …
…which brings to mind one other profoundly moving and pivotal moment: Nael Nacer’s MacDuff after discovering that Macbeth has slaughtered his wife and children,”all his pretty ones.” Watching this loyal and noble warrior crumple under the weight of such raw anguish made this night of theater under the stars darker– until Malcolm becomes king. Malcolm is here played by the commanding Marianna Bassham; this shift to the feminine as she replaces the decapitated Macbeth as Head of State is a welcome sight on this –or any world stage.