Live Arts is a nonprofit community theatre best known for contemporary fare, including acclaimed recent productions of Angels in America and A Raisin in the Sun. To open their 2006 season, however, artistic director John Gibson decided to return to "the classics." Premiering on Friday the thirteenthand starring a cast of thirteen, Gibson's taut version of Macbeth was bloody, bleak, and quick.
Gibson's set was grey and dimly lit, emphasizing the basic elements of stone, water and blood, and flexible enough to convey indoor and outdoor spaces. A large metal tub filled with water stood downstage and a small ramp was placed center-stage right. The three witches—one young, one middle-aged, one older—remained onstage throughout the action, surveying both audience and actors from their perch on vertical scaffolding. Vials of blood were placed on tables upstage in front of this scaffolding; when a character was murdered, the witches would liberally douse bodies and weapons with this blood. The costumes were a fairly predictable blend of tartan and military greens, although Jesse Manson as Malcolm was tricked out in a campy brocade jacket.
Gibson achieved his speed—the play ran precisely ninety minutes without a break—through judicious line cuts and redistributions. The actors accomplished their entrances and exits very quickly, with bodies accumulating onstage throughout the marvelously telescoped final act. Literally staining Macbeth's hands with blood, Gibson eliminated the three hired murderers and had Macbeth himself dispatch Banquo, Lady Macduff, and young Macduff. This choice created a far more resolute, aggressive Macbeth and significantly shaped the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Macbeth's distance from his wife, to whom he seemed initially enthralled, became increasingly pronounced the more "stepped in blood" he became. Lady Macbeth (who appeared slightly older than Macbeth) went from "bad mommy," steeling her recalcitrant lover/child in 1.7, to a largely absent or irrelevant figure by 3.4. Dinah Pehrson effectively rendered her character's spiraling alienation. [End Page 104]
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[End Page 105]
This production's final act moved so rapidly that I was nearly unable to track all of its changes. Essentially, Gibson cut and re-arranged acts four and five. His finale therefore ran seamlessly from Macduff and Malcolm's exchange in 4.3, to Lady Macduff's murder, to the deaths of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. In a crucial move, Gibson had his key actors remain onstage without exiting: thus Lady Macbeth appeared to Lady Macduff as "The Messenger" come to warn Lady Macduff of danger before taking up a position sleeping on the ramp, her garments stained by the blood left behind by earlier murders. Macduff received news of his family's death even as their bodies remained visible to the audience. Macbeth delivered his "sound and fury" speech crouched next to his victims while propping up young Macduff's lifeless body like a dummy. We witnessed Lady Macbeth's death by drowning in the metal tub, where she remained until joined by her husband, who also fell into the tub after fighting Macduff.
Gibson used his child actors very well. There was something uncanny about seeing the very young in a mature production such as this, and when Macbeth murdered young Macduff the audience was genuinely unsettled—as they surely were watching Lady Macbeth greet and caress Fleance and young Macduff in...