Macbeth, Philadelphia

Written by:
Lewis Whittington
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Jacqueline Antaramian as Lady Macbeth and CJ Wilson as Macbeth
Photo by Jim Roese


By William Shakespeare
Directed by Blanka Zizka
The Wilma Theater, Philadelphia
Through Nov. 13
(See video clip with Blanka Zizka below.)

“Macbeth,” that most rueful of Shakespearean tragedies, is playing to sold-out houses at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. Director Blanka Zizka time warps the play to the late 20th century, but it may, in fact, be tapping the pre-election climate of fair is foul, foul is fair.

The meat locker bi-level set by Mimi Lien transforms easily from fortress to dining hall to bedchamber with Tyler Micoleau‘s sneak-attack lighting design. The eerie score by Pavel Fajt is deft incidental music, punctuated by Daniel Perelstein’s cinematic sound effects. Oana Botez-Ban’s costumes are unfussy bursts of reverse psychology–Lady Macbeth‘s violet satin evening dress could be a gown by Adrian, but seems steelier than Macbeth’s velcroed breastplate. And what of those newt-packing “weird sisters” spewing their prophesies? They are a randy band of guerrilla warfare witches who bungee out of nowhere thanks to choreographer/illusionist Brian Sanders.

All compelling designs to launch Zizka’s focus on plotting the madness of the Macbeths and the havoc that their power wreaks on their country.The exiled Malcolm and Macduff are holed up in 1960s Piccadilly, where they regroup, and these exchanges are more relevant than ever: “(Scotland) is a land diseased and sick,” Macduff says. “Bleed, bleed, poor country.” Malcolm “tests his listener, showing a ‘false face’ not to deceive but to adjudicate and to prove.” The eternal power of Shakespeare.

Zizka’s able, diversified cast of 20 mostly keeps the play the thing, but even though the ensemble worked with text coaches, erratic pacing and barking out the lines mar some exposition and characterizations. Some Bardian veterans helped along the way. Michael Rudko listening to an account of battlefield heroism, instantly recalibrated the pacing in the early scenes.Luigi Sottile (Malcolm) and Albert Jones (Macduff) are not only good actors, they are so natural with the rhythm of the dialogue that it comes over as everyday speech.

Also not struggling with the language is Jacqueline Antaramian, a most protean Lady Macbeth–regal and earthy, subtle and operatic, a serene torrent going into madness. She has lethal and erotic chemistry with CJ Wilson’s Macbeth. Wilson can seem hesitant, but mostly delves into the deepest emotional reaches of the role with admirable reserve. Especially effective to masterful in the soliloquies, including the play’s most worn “tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. Wilson and Jones don’t hold back in the climatic castle rumble, going full throttle, vocally and physically.

This is the Wilma’s first stab at Shakespeare and even though it gets snagged on those sharp syntactical daggers, the production pulses with more than stageblood. Zizka orchestrates both the political drama and the social implications. She makes the murderous, lying hearts of the Macbeths just part of a broader scenario of history repeating itself: the venomous themes as ripe for understanding the corrupted sound and fury to signify everything around us.

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