Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Macbeth—NW Classical Theatre—SE Portland

Dagger of the Mind

This classical Shakespearean tragedy is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space at 2110 SE 10th Ave. through June 22nd.  It is directed by Butch Flowers.  For more information, go to their site at

Possibility the most supernatural of all his dramas, one has to question whether this story is to be taken literally or is just a product of a fevered imagination of Macbeth’s mind.  Probably the best filmed interpretation is the one a number of years ago with a young Ian McKellan and Judi Dench in the lead roles.  It, too, was a stripped down model of the play, as this is, and very effective.

Ambition burns hot in this Macbeth’s (Jason Maniccia) mind as he becomes a hero in a battle.  But, feeling he doesn’t get his true reward, he fusses and fumes, awaiting his chance to get even.  He, and his best friend, Banquo (Peter Platt) happen upon three seers (Clara-Liis Hillier, Bonnie Auguston and Caitlin Fisher-Draeger) upon their travels and they predict great things for both men.

Upon arriving home, the young thane tells his wife (Melissa Whitney) of his accomplishments and disappointments.  And she burns hotter than he with ambition, seeing a kingship in his future.  And so, it comes to pass, that the King (Chris Porter) is to spend a night in their castle.  Unable to pass up the opportunity, the Macbeths’ murder the lot of them.  But, once one starts down that slippery slope of ambition and vengeance, lo to anyone standing in their way, even best friends.

Finally a full-scale war ensues and his chief rival, McDuff (Todd Van Voris), flees the country.  But when he discovers that his entire family, even his “pretty babies,” have been slaughtered by this Thane, he raises an army and strikes back.  Macbeth feels fearless, as the seers have given him some information, albeit misleading, that he might be invincible.  You might be able to guess the rest, but I won’t spoil it by giving you the grisly details.

This show is done on an almost a completely bare stage with only a table and a few chairs at one point to represent the infamous banquet scene.  So it is left to the actors (in modern dress) and the remarkable lighting designer (Jeff Woods) to create the story, settings and mood.  And they all do an amazing job under Flowers’s direction.  This is storytelling at its best!

There is another unique aspect about this production, which I quite liked.  The three witches, Hillier, Auguston and Fisher-Draeger are not the expected old hags from previous incarnations of the story, but are a trio of quite attractive ladies, infiltrating different guises of characters throughout the play, to glean the information they need to make their prophesies.  And they are quite good.  A novel approach by Flowers and it works.

Whitney as Lady Macbeth is very good as she schemes, works her wiles to weave her web and has the most effective, bone-chilling scream (or screech) I’ve ever heard onstage.  Maniccia is not quite as effective as he could be as the lead character.  His build start off well but he stays too much at the same high-pitched level much of the play.  He speaks the language well but he needs more variety in his moods.  Platt, as his friend, has the right look and intensity for Banquo and his “grave” appearance later on is quite chilling.

Jeffrey Arrington, as the eventual inheritor to the throne, Malcom, is also very effective and has the right look, voice, and bearing for the part.  And, to once again prove there are no small parts, Koerschgen as various characters, and the comic Porter, an all too brief encounter, definitely demands our attention when he’s onstage.  Young, Hank Sanders, more than holds his own as both Banquo and McDuff’s sons.  He has a fine stage presence and could go far if he continues in this field.

But the stellar performance of the evening is Van Voris as McDuff.  He is exceptional!  His delivery is very conversational and natural.  You watch him think onstage as he mulls over various questions, decisions and courses he must take throughout his journey.  He underplays this character beautifully and becomes very human for us.  He was seen on the stage quite frequently, often as a member of Artists Rep.’s acting company.  He has been absent for while from the “boards” but hope we will be seeing his countenance again and often.  A fine actor and performance!

And, a side note, Grant Turner, the founder and artistic director of the company, will be receiving a well-deserved, special achievement award at the Drammy Awards this month.  Congrats, Mr. Turner, may you live long and prosper!

I recommend this show but know that it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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