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Feels like the first time

The Gamm's masterful 'Macbeth'
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  March 19, 2014

POWER COUPLE Estrella and Kane. [Photo by Peter Goldberg]

So you’ve seen Macbeth so many times you can repeat the “tomorrow, and tomorrow” monologue along with the doomed Scot? Well, reconsider. The inventive, powerful production at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre (through April 13) renews the classic in ways that make the timeworn tragedy disturbingly bold and immediate.

It’s directed with the same intelligent attention by Trinity Rep veteran actor Fred Sullivan, Jr., as he has done with a half-dozen other works of Shakespeare in the Gamm’s last eight seasons. Sullivan has a knack for bringing 500-year-old sentiments and insights home to the heart, not letting us escape identifying with them, even with hearts of darkness. As he says in his program note about the temptation to do evil that the Macbeths succumb to: “Everyone in my family works too hard and cares too deeply. Most people I know are theater people and are the strangest marriage of narcissism and insecurity possible. The Macbeths don’t seem inhuman to me at all.”

Less or more than human are the three witches consorting amidst thunder and lightning in the opening scene, looking forward to tempting Macbeth (Tony Estrella) with a crown in his future. Interestingly, Shakespeare doesn’t have them suggest knocking off Duncan (Richard Donelly), King of Scotland — planting such an ambition in a warrior accustomed to bloody hands is enough.

The past is brought to the present, near enough so, early on. Scottish soldiers on a battlefield are wearing gas masks and WWI helmets as well as Glengarries. The rusty drips on the back wall evoke blood. Macbeth’s battle valor is described, and a stylized animated image of him is projected, the bayonet in his hand growing bloody, foreshadowing the “dagger I see before me” in his eventual guilt-provoked hallucination.

As Lady Macbeth, Jeanine Kane is a sinister match to Estrella’s eager, self-described “vaulting ambition.” It is Macbeth who grabs hold of the witches’ prediction and lets it tug him toward murder, but his wife proves to be even more darkly ambitious. When he seems to falter in resolve, she is aghast. We can forget that when Duncan is opportunely under the couple’s roof overnight, Macbeth decides: “We will proceed no further in this business/He hath honour’d me of late.” But his Lady is more than aghast, she is outraged, objecting with perhaps the most shocking image in all of Shakespeare: that rather than violate such a pact she would have “dash’d the brains out” of a babe at her breast. Now that’s motivation.

There’s never just one or two deaths in Shakespeare, so Macbeth is driven to make worms’ meat out of the likes of his friend and fellow soldier Banquo (Michael Forden Walker), which prompts the new king’s first guilty imagining, seeing and addressing Banquo’s ghost before noble guests at a banquet. Another fellow thane, Macduff (Steve Kidd), had the foresight to flee the country, along with Duncan’s rightful heir, Malcolm (Jordan Ahnquist). Macbeth settles for sending cutthroats to Macduff’s castle and having everyone slaughtered — wife (Wendy Overly), children, servants, everyone.

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