Macbeth is a play about the relationship between power and corruption and how absolute power corrupts absolutely – and much like the title character and his wife are seduced by power, many a reader or audience member is seduced by the idea that corruption (and witches – don’t forget witches) is all there is to the story. A morally weak man is tempted into committing murder by his evil, ambitious wife, and he kills his way through Scotland in until another soldier cuts off his head and presents it to Scotland’s slightly less power-hungry politicians.
It’s easy to forget that Macbeth is called a tragedy for a reason, that it’s not the tale of a corrupt man who becomes entirely evil, but the transformation of Scotland’s bravest soldier into Scotland’s most fearsome tyrant. The protagonist is hailed at the beginning of the play for his brave deeds, and his death is cheered at the end. A successful production of Macbeth should make the audience feel something more than vicarious, bloodthirsty delight at watching Macduff avenge his family’s murder. We should feel a sense of loss and wonder who Macbeth could have been, had he not chosen the path of bloody ambition.
This sense of loss is felt in What Dreams May Co. Theatre’s production of Macbeth. In the program, director Christina Sheehan promises an interpretation of the play where the characters are “unfailingly, devastatingly human,” and delivers on that promise by focusing on the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, two equal partners in greatness.
Macbeth is played by Alan Brincks, a tall, muscular actor who wouldn’t look out of place in an Army recruitment ad. Physically impressive, Brincks is easily believable as one of the finest soldiers in Scotland. Nicole Schalmo (one of What Dreams May Co.’s co-founders) portrays Lady Macbeth, commanding the stage in a short bathrobe with the regal smirk of a woman meant to be a queen. When they first clap eyes on each other, the sexual chemistry is palpable before they even speak a word, and this energy is maintained in all of their scenes together.
The passion between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is evident in the early and middle stages of their relationship, making their subsequent downfalls all the more tragic. They begin the play as a couple deeply in love to the point where they can barely keep their hands off of each other, but by the time Macbeth is crowned king, he is already putting more physical distance between himself and his wife – and from the expression on Schalmo’s face, Lady Macbeth is feeling the sting.
The distance between them grows when Banquo (portrayed by Lindsay Zelli in a strong performance) arrives as a ghost to the banquet and provokes Macbeth to hurl violent, paranoid speeches at his unwelcome guest. Lady Macbeth chuckles a little too much, foreshadowing her madness later in the play, and the equal partners in greatness are no longer on the same page. As his ranting continues, she only begins to comprehend the magnitude of the sin they have committed.
By the time the fateful message of Act Five is delivered – “The queen, my lord, is dead” – Macbeth is too far gone to feel anything but a dull blow. A sentence that would have devastated him in the beginning of the play can only provoke a brief pause before he remarks, “She should have died hereafter.” Then, the true sense of tragedy of the play is felt: a man who once showed such passion for his wife can barely muster emotion to comment on her death. The last of his humanity is gone.
The strong supporting cast of What Dreams May Co.’s Macbeth – notably Lindsay Zelli as Banquo, Jonathan Emerson as Macduff, and Monique Sanchez as Lady Macduff – contributes to the scope of human tragedy in the production, as we watch decent people and their families fall to the prey of the scheming lead couple. By watching the passion of the lead couple unfold onstage, we are reminded that their love for each other is a humanizing quality, but not a redeeming one – and that feels most tragic of all.
Macbeth is playing at The 133rd St Arts Center at 308 W 133rd St from December 6-December 21. Cast: Alan Brincks, Jonathan Emerson, Josh Laird, John Maddaloni, Vince Reese, James Rieser, Nicole Schalmo, Monique Sanchez, Zoe Sjogermann, Sophia Watt, Marcus Watson, Lindsey Zelli. To purchase tickets, please visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/495842.