The Steel (and the Production) Sings
“What’s done is done,” so let us jump straight in, shall we? Allow me to address the most forefront issue of the evening first- the fighting. Any sort of fight choreography is sure to dazzle when done right. A strong fight tells a story with and in-between its blows, and one of the inescapable things about MACBETH is that there is no shortage of quarrels, both big and small. It begins with Scotland waging war against an alliance betwixt Ireland and Norway, after all. The incredible craft, technique, and experience of the two fight directors, Alex Durrant and Nicolas Logue, is apparent any time Logue wields a blade and crescendos when the two finally meet on the battlefield. However, their direction and experience paired with the cast’s wielding of said direction is one of the highest points of this production, as all the fights were felt through and through as the tragedy ran through the evening. There is a finer appreciation to stage combat though- one you may have heard. When two blades meet, the audience (having been conditioned by TV and movies) expects a ringing “CLANG” to sound from every blow. This is not always the case, as sometimes the blades will not meet in the right spot. Hitting too high or too low on the blade results in a flatter sound, and is considerably less dramatic (and isn’t healthy for the life of the blade!). This is why fight directors and choreographers try to spend as much time rehearsing this, but understandably it is not always consistent as we are a community theatre state, and some are unable to focus on the finer points of the dance we know as fight choreography (like myself). Knowing this, I hope you understand how impressed I was by the entire sword wielding cast’s talent at making each sword blow ring true. Right out of the gate, the clear singing “CLANG” is apparent, and true enough, blow for blow, every fighter hit their mark. It’s difficult to pull off and difficult to remain consistent, but this company has got it. Kudos to Durrant, Logue, and the cast for making their steel “sing.”
The concluding show of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival’s 18th season is none other than The Scottish play, MACBETH, directed by Taurie Kinoshita. It runs through August 25 at The ARTS at Marks Garage.
MACBETH is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, chronicling the descent of its titular character into fevered madness and violence until he comes face to face with the price of his hubris. After helping lead the Scottish forces in defeating an Ireland/Norway alliance, the generals Macbeth (Logue) and Banquo (Noah K. Schuetz) come across three witches (Chivalry Butler, Denise Aiko Chinen, Suzanne Greene) that issue both a prophecy. Macbeth is to advance in titles, all the way to king, while Banquo will sire a line of kings though he will not be one. At the end of the battle, the prophecy comes true, with Macbeth one step away from being king according to the prophecy. Informing his wife, Lady Macbeth (Jaime Brander) of the witches’ prophecy, she becomes instrumental in executing the last part of the plan: eliminating Duncan, King of Scotland (Robert Tobin). Macbeth, spurred on by Lady Macbeth, is successful in eliminating Duncan, and as Duncan’s heirs flee Scotland Macbeth is crowned king. Banquo, who watches all of this unfold before his eyes, grows suspicious of Macbeth and tries to ride out early with his son, Fleance (Jenica Wong). Unease, anxiousness, and constant hauntings and visions cloud Macbeth’s mind as he tries to keep the crown for himself, and sends assassins to eliminate Banquo. They succeed, but Fleance escapes, and Macbeth and his wife are further plagued by both fear and guilt over what they have done. In a final prophecy, the witches seem to put Macbeth’s fears at ease- they tell him to beware of one named Macduff (Durrant), inform Macbeth that he cannot be harmed by anyone born of a woman, and that he will be safe until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. In his hubris, he issues a bloody order to eliminate all within the House of Macduff-and ends up killing all of his family and servants, but not Macduff himself, who was away from his keep and meeting with a small European union of leaders and the heirs of Duncan. An uprising was gathering, but against the untouchable Macbeth, how could they end this terrible reign?
Kinoshita has written a very informative director’s note, informing the audience not only of the themes that run through the play but a brief examination of cultural practices as well. It is definitely worth the read.
Her company that she cast is extremely strong. It is very impressive to see a collective drive to tell the story throughout the entire company as there is very little criticism to dole out. Since there was only two (that I saw) cases of double-casting, the cast is extremely large, which means you may not see some people until act two. Her company upholds the old theatre adage of there being “no small roles;” all the actors commanded the language of Shakespeare as if they knew what they were saying, and they put a solid 100 into the truth of their moments, no matter how big or small it were. I will talk about the performances of some of the stand-out performances, but know that they stood out because the script gave them the freedom to; if I had the room or the time to talk about everyone, I would.
Logue as Macbeth is a revelation, and his arc was extremely fascinating to watch. Bringing a jovial, optimistic, and opportunistic side to Macbeth makes the turn that much more interesting and fascinating to watch, and Logue doesn’t pull the brakes as he cycles through the very real anxiety, doubt, and pain that we are all accustomed to. Opposite Logue is Bradner, whose turn as Lady Macbeth is equally as stunning. Bradner’s Lady Macbeth is shrewd, and while Logue’s Macbeth is subject to his own darkness and fear, Bradner is quick to flex her own strength to try and assuage his madness. Her suffering is different and a bit more private that Macbeth, but nonetheless just as riveting to watch. I understand I’m saying “look at the suffering, it’s so good” but that is the natural arcs these two characters go through, and to have the actors fully embrace them (as well as other emotions, I promise) with such honesty is a treat for any theatre goer. Durrant’s Macduff is nuanced and balanced, and the weight of his losses courses through his veins all the way up to the final battle, and the sudden introduction (and sudden removal) of his pregnant wife (Kirstyn Galius) and daughter (Kayla Silva) makes me wish to have seen a scene or two that had the family together before they were untimely separated. Butler, Chinen, and Greene were stellar as the witches, contorting their bodies and voices with an otherworldly touch. They were haunting with their voices, and downright scary when their collective energy turned sharp; all three were able to remain a unit while also being their own witch. Schuetz’s Banquo could have enunciated a bit more to hear his words a tad more clearly, but Schuetz really shines as a fighter as his physical acting is some of the strongest I’ve seen this year. Schuetz really commits to telling the story as a fighter, and his final fight against his assassins is both heart wrenching and beautiful to witness. Malia Wessel’s Porter may have gotten less laughs than usual during our performance, but make no mistake it was not because she was not funny. Wessel clearly understands the language she is wielding and knows how to flex both the comedy of Shakespeare as well as her own flavor of comedy. Not every night will be a guffaw due to the nature of live audiences, but she makes the most of her scene nonetheless.
The design tam that Kinoshita has worked with also hold their part as well. I really liked the slate walls adorning Paul Yau’s scenic design, as it captured the tone and the weight of the tale about to be told. Kahana Ho’s lighting was selective in its hues and I appreciated that, giving an even tone during the production (and thus, her highlighted moments popped even better!), though I do wish the two downstage entrances were lit a bit better. I enjoyed the various textures Iris Kim’s costume designs had, and they pair well with Michelle Umipeg’s hair and makeup design. Umipeg’s work is most closely noticed on the witches (which looked phenomenal), but she also had a lot of the cast grow out their hair and facial hair for the show- it gave a the show a more rougher, weathered feel, very interesting.
Strong acting throughout the entire company. Clear and thoughtful stage conventions. The cleanest fighting I’ve seen on stage shared by a company in a long time. MACBETH runs Thursday-Sunday through August 25 at THE ARTS at Marks Garage, for tickets please click here.