Polarity Ensemble Theatre at Greenhouse Theater Center. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Richard Engling. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s production of Macbeth gravitates, as many before it have, toward witchcraft and rituals. Director Richard Engling seeks to return the tragedy to a primordial ceremony whereby the evil of man is purged through sacrifice, in this case through Macbeth’s murder of the king and all his rivals. The space at the Greenhouse Theater Center is dominated by a blood-red pentagram center stage and a percussive ensemble that punctuates the action with tribal sounds.
Love or hate nontraditional Shakespeare, Polarity fails to follow the cardinal rule: If you’re going to go for it, go big. The ritualistic flourishes here are really just extras on a traditional—almost rote—performance of Macbeth.
Underneath the wolf masks and incense smoke are emotionally simple characters. Jovan King’s Macbeth is imposing and prone to shouting. Lana Smithner’s Lady Mac is steely and ambitious. The pair carry enough charisma between them to hold up the evening, but they’re caricatures, not people. It may be that by becoming emblems of sacrifice, they lost the humanity and insight that has made the pair enthralling for generations. The same may be said of the entire cast; they play precisely to their roles, with little to suggest the immediacy of the tragedies before them or the cosmic significance of a purgation rite. Engling’s vision never sinks its claws beneath the surface of Macbeth, into the soul-searching agony of its title character in an age where ambition’s fruit is born with the blade.
But where this production finds its true downfall is the language. The wonderful thing about adapted Shakespeare is even when it fails conceptually, you’ve still got poetry. Not so here. Across the board, the dialogue is breathy and indistinct. The only mode of delivery is proclamation. Shakespeare isn’t some refined recitation; it should float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. The players act to the gist of their scenes, rather than the significance in each phrase. The complexity woven into Macbeth’s words is glossed over in favor of some drums and symbols that, generic as they are, cannot replace the lost beauty and heart of this great tragedy.