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Do you see what I prophesy? Home Made Theater’s Macbeth.

Read On, Macduff
By James Yeara

By William Shakespeare, directed by Terry Rabine

Home Made Theater, Through March 2

Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, Macbeth, has a cursed reputation. Think of it as Shakespeare’s most dangerous play, with numerous sword fights between warriors and witches who frequently curse and engage in rituals that have been said to actually conjure demons. A staple of American high school English curricula, Macbeth, like Romeo and Juliet, has become the conduit into the classics, and Home Made Theater’s current production of Macbeth is a fine conduit into a literary classic: Clear, clean and precise, with an attention to costuming detail and a lighting design that Madame Tussaud would envy. Every performer stands out pristinely as a museum exhibit.

This is Shakespeare worthy of the CliffsNotes. It’s a production that students would enjoy: It keeps the clarity of the lecture and preserves all the literary devices that make Shakespeare a hit in the classroom. HMT’s Macbeth is full of fine stage pictures and precision of diction.

Macbeth is presented on a bare raised platform with three steps upstage center and a cyclorama of changing hues (red for the murder scenes) upstage of the steps. With Michael Blau’s museum-quality lighting design, which features some clear underlighting for the witches’ conjuring scenes, this is a by-the-book Macbeth: You can see all and you can hear all. The sounds of the words hit with the exactness of raindrops falling on a tin roof, and with director Terry Rabine’s excellent sound design—never before have wind, rain, thunder, howling, hooting, crying, cawing mingled so closely with a text—HMT’s Macbeth whizzes across the stage with a stunning pace that never slows for a bothersome twitch of feeling or a hint of emotion. At two hours running time, you may, as I did, hardly realize that you saw the play in the first place, so quickly does the production pass from memory. The economy of movement, the exactness of speaking and the metaphorical obedience to Lady Macbeth’s command to “unsex me here” gives this Macbeth a feel like a Play-Doh replica of a Rodin statue.

Rabine does a remarkable job of keeping his 21-person cast moving across the stage and blocked into clear, concise groupings that leave the cast plenty of room for their profiles. The conventional staging and conceiving will please those who like their words on the stage as still as the words on the page, and HMT’s production keeps the essential plot crystal clear: Macbeth (Jay Cotten) murders his King (Dale McKim) at the urging of Lady Macbeth (Lezlie Dana) because three witches (Robin Leary, Bairbre McCarthy, Bonnie Zabinski) prophesy that Macbeth will be king, and, as king, Macbeth kills many of his subjects, and ultimately dies at the sword of Macduff (John O’Neill), who was born by cesarean section.

While Macbeth most definitely does not murder sleep in this production, there are, however, two moments when some unconventional staging brings some light onto the motivation and theme of the play. When Macbeth famously says, “Is this a dagger I see before me?” the witches, in their underlighted conjuring squares, manipulate the dagger in front of Macbeth, ultimately leading him off to where King Duncan rests. And the production ends not with the thanes cheering the king but with the witches giving one more “All hail,” which makes their effect again more potent than such a conventional production would seem to allow. While Shakespeare & Company’s recent 2002 production of Macbeth took so many risks and had so many concepts that it suffocated in a miasma of thought and feelings, HMT’s Macbeth is like Shakespeare on Ice. It’s clear, well-spaced, easy to follow, and frigid. Those who fear theater is an alchemy of blood, sweat, and spit will find all those exorcised from this production. No demons will be conjured here.

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