GOING FOR THE THROAT Heath and White. [Photo by James DeMello]
Good idea, boiling down Shakespeare’s Macbeth by a quarter to 90 minutes. Left full length, his shortest tragedy is already a burbling distillation of human hubris, but speeding the usurping king’s journey of assailed conscience concentrates his fear-riddled mind wonderfully.
The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater (TRIST) is presenting the familiar tale top-full of direst cruelty, directed by Bob Colonna, through October 28 at the Roger Williams National Memorial on South Main St in Providence.
Eliminating incidental scenes helps us keep focused on the weak-willed man’s wobbly race toward ruination, as the ambitious general Macbeth (Dan White) attains the crown of Scotland by stabbing a sleeping King Duncan (Colonna) and murderously continuing until his own head is thwacked off. Sharing his guilt, and eventually his guilty conscience, is Lady Macbeth (Leann Heath), hallucinating bloody evidence — “Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” — that she can’t wash clean, just as he had imagined a dagger before him, “the handle toward my hand.”
Since we’re outdoors, with traffic noise occasionally distracting our attention, it’s especially challenging for the action to
grab us by the lapels and renew our interest in this “untitled tyrant bloody-sceptered” — with “bloody” employed no less than 16 times in the play.
So the witches — the three “weird sisters” who have the first scene and comment now and then on the proceedings — need to be a dynamic mini-ensemble. And so they are, with Meryn Flynn, Meg Taylor-Roth, and Cherylee Dumas animated with their “Double, double, toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” holding up cue cards for the audience to join in on that chant, and delivering their opening malediction as a rap song.
Other scenes are also brought up to date. Lady Macbeth reads a missive from her husband on an iPad. Duncan addresses his minions in the thuggish accent of a Mafia don, reducing his courtiers to gangsters and, as they sing a chorus of “Mack the Knife,” he jauntily snaps his fingers to the beat.
If Macbeth had stopped at killing Duncan and then gone on in the usual kingly fashion, negotiating court politics and fending off fawning aristocrats, the usurper might have ended up smugly content. But one consequence of his guilt was paranoia, and the consequence of that was serial killings. Banquo’s sons were predicted to reign, so they would have to go. The witches also warned him of Macduff (Christopher Ferriera), but he has fled, so Macbeth turns his wrath on Macduff’s family, having his wife (Rosanna Cavanaugh) and children slain.
Early on Macbeth is hesitant, all but trembling at the idea of fulfilling the witches’ prophecy of his rise, murdering the king while Duncan is a guest in his home, hoping that “if chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me/Without my stir,” and soon after admitting: “I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent.” So it’s all the more important that he is continually urged on by his co-conspirator and bedmate (the most convincing motivation I’ve seen had their relationship lusty to the point of breathy conversation). Heath presents this Lady Macbeth as businesslike and no-nonsense, which works.