Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Macbeth by William Shakespeare, City Theatre, Austin, October 10 - November 3, 2013

ALT review
Macbeth Shakespeare City Theatre Austin TX

by Michael Meigs

Shakespeare's most frequently performed works have remained vivid and vital for centuries in part because he creates characters caught in life's fundamental, archetypical dilemmas. Young lovers Romeo and Juliet rebel against constraints of family and society. Hamlet, the solitary hero, disappointed and deceived, seeks justification for taking action against a sea of troubles. Lear rages against old age and arrogant, indifferent children. And Macbeth is a good man undone by temptation and headed straight to hell.

Macbeth, noble, dutiful and valiant, is lured by ambition into the evil sequence of deceit, regicide, murder, slaughter, oppression and war. In opening scenes he's victorious and devoted, a central figure whom all admire; over the course of these five acts he abandons obedience and scruple, wading ever deeper into mortal sin and bloodletting, alienating our initial sympathies. This is an enormous distance to travel, both for the actor and for the audience.
Macbeth City Theatre Austin
Dawn Erin, Brian Villalobos (photo: City Theatre)

Brian Villalobos establishes City Theatre's Macbeth as fit, athletic and eloquent but haunted by the sensitivities of a modern young 21st century man. In opening scenes we see him less as a tempted hero than as a hesitant victim of the witches' tempting prophecies and the cold hearted insistence of Dawn Erin as Lady Macbeth. Villalobos uses one particular and distinctive gesture again and again in the opening acts: in confusion and indecision he seizes his head with both hands.

Indecisive, but not inarticulate. His delivery is well paced with good scansion and no grandiloquence or bombast. One senses a Macbeth engaged in an ongoing interior dialogue. Some replies Villalobos played more quietly than the house really allowed -- though the City Theatre with its 85 seats is an intimate space, there's a lot of cloth and space behind the players to swallow up sound.

Villalobos moved Macbeth away from that initial confusion toward greater decision and clarity. In contrast to the play's more familiar traditional arc -- showing the usurper as single-minded but ever more out of control -- this Macbeth seemed to comprehend more fully the consequences of his actions. He does grasp at the straws of the witches' mendacious assurances, but he's calmer, stronger and increasingly more determined in the final act. Villalobos is on one knee at center stage when he's given the news of the death of his queen; he pauses, not rising, and delivers the memorable monologue "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. . . " quietly and without bitterness.

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