By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call Columnist; Photo by Steven L. Sears.
Every time I go to the theatre, every single time, I very much hope for a great show. Sure, I want to be entertained (moved, etc.), but mostly it’s about wishing the best for the brave artists on and offstage who make themselves vulnerable night after night to the high-wire act that is staging a play. Few of these folks are making any real money at it, and all are in complete earnest. They are doing what they love and giving it their all.
The House of Bards Theatre Company is a new, nonprofit troupe clearly putting their whole hearts into their inaugural production, Macbeth. And before addressing the show itself, it’s only fair to be up front about my feeling that “the Scottish play” is the most flawed of Shakespeare’s major works ― maybe the most flawed in his entire oeuvre. Yeah, it’s a tour de force of a treatise on ambition (one of the Bard’s strongest subjects), and it has more than its fair share of great lines, but it’s shot through with plot holes (implausibility is de règle for Shakespeare, but Macbeth goes beyond the pale) and badly bloated. All in all, Macbeth doesn’t do it for me under the best of circumstances.
Take that for what you will when I tell you that House of Bards’ Macbeth does not present the best of circumstances. Because there’s no point in piling on, I will confine myself to a few observations, in no particular order:
- The vast majority of the words we hear in this show are recited in an orotund manner fitting the common stereotype of Shakespeare, with far too little modulation. It is not clear to me how well or ill director Michael Richey tutored his cast on the dialog’s meaning (I can’t help but notice the lack of a dramaturge among the production staff ― probably a major sin of omission in any Shakespeare production), but more often than not there appears to be insufficient understanding of their lines. At times this holds true even when surely the actor does know what he’s saying. I have no doubt, for example, that Jed Sura knows when he says “Is this a dagger which I see before me” that his character (Macbeth)[…] is hallucinating or being haunted […], yet there is no shift in tone to differentiate this startling experience from how he felt during the previous line, when he simply told his servant to go to bed.
- The fight choreography is painfully stilted.
- The sound design detracts more than it adds. The main offender is a single trumpet flourish that repeats ad nauseam, often to no apparent purpose.
- Where Macbeth should feel big ― even if only with the aid of suspension of disbelief ― is where it feels smallest. For example, the banquet in Macbeth’s castle once he is king is five people sitting at something smaller than a picnic table.
What works? Well…
- Although I don’t much care for Shakespeare’s employment of the Witches as a device, at least Richey and his trio of Brendan Kane, Courtney King, and Iris Sura give us a hissing, over-the-top take I haven’t quite seen before, something along the lines of the ghouls you can find at the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor right now. Particularly good during the “Double, double, toil and trouble” bit.
- There are a couple of good lighting cues in that scene, too.
- The costumes are good (except for Macbeth’s armor, which is basically a studded leather vest).
- Although I don’t much care for the comic relief Shakespeare inserts into this tragedy, Andy Kallok’s monolog on the dichotomy of alcohol’s effect on sexual desire and a man’s ability to act on it gave the groundlings some good laughs.
I appreciate how hard it is ― even for long-established theatre companies with far more resources than are available to the House of Bards ― to do Shakespeare well. And I appreciate the obvious effort made by all involved here. And no doubt my feelings about the play did not predispose me to enjoy what I saw here.
For all that, there’s simply no getting around the fact that this show comes up short.
Macbeth at The House of Bards Theatre Company
Times: Thurs.-Fri. 7:30 p.m. + Sun. 2 p.m. (no show Sept. 27)
The show runs through November 3
Details: (310) 279-7534, HouseOfBards.org
Venue: the Grand Annex, 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro