Swordfights, Gore and Greed

Shakespeare’s Macbeth gets stripped down at Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket.

A heroic leader reaches for greatness but falls as a bloodthirsty, paranoid tyrant. It’s happened in our world before — really, we’re all capable of it — and it could happen again.

That’s the message director Fred Sullivan Jr. sends with his seventh Shakespearean production at the Gamm, onstage through mid-April. Sullivan’s Macbeth juxtaposes the Bard’s elegant prose against a bare bones set and — the real feat — captivates a modern audience with centuries-old themes of feral ambition and greed.

The play opens on three haggard witches chanting and charming beneath flashing bolts of lightning. In a contemporary twist, the witches, played by Wendy Overly, Alec Thibodeau and Rachel Dulude, wear gas masks as machine guns rattle in the distance. Sullivan toys with time and place throughout the play, however this scene is the most unsettling.

The witches prophesize that Macbeth, a war hero returning to Scotland, will be hailed the Thane of Cawdor and then become king. Minute by minute, scene by scene, their prophecies come true. But not without narcissistic, power-hungry pushes from Macbeth, thoughtfully played by Tony Estrella, and his wife Lady Macbeth, played by Jeanine Kane.

Kane is terrific in this chilling, multifaceted role. Her red-blooded Lady Macbeth ruthlessly thrusts the witches’ prophecy into reality. She emasculates a wavering Macbeth and pushes him to murder the kind King Duncan, played by a regal Richard Donnelly, with his own two hands.

The prophecy comes true; Macbeth is king. But the barren couple fears the second half of the witches’ forecast: Banquo, Macbeth’s friend and a fellow general in the Scottish army played by Michael Forden Walker, will father a lineage of kings. The couple is already ravaged with guilt — Macbeth, outwardly, and Lady Macbeth, within — yet they persist in murdering any and all who might challenge their rule.

This includes Banquo and the wife and children of Macduff, a thane played by Steven Kidd, while he’s away in England counseling the slain King Duncan’s eldest son, Malcolm. Actor Jordan Ahnquist brilliantly portrays Malcolm’s inner conflict as rightful heir to the throne; he battles his own demons and is capable of becoming as treacherous a king as Macbeth, or worse.

That’s why we’re so committed to Shakespeare’s body of work: It captures the breadth of human emotions, from selflessness and love to feverish rage, that stirred within us yesterday and will stir within us tomorrow. Sullivan’s take on the Bard’s most tragic tale explores the darkest of them all, and well.

THEATER RECAP: Macbeth

Hits: Macbeth’s (Tony Estrella) steady mental breakdown; Jeanine Kane’s terrifying portrayal of Lady Macbeth; Jordan Ahnquist as honest, naïve prince Malcolm.

Misses: A song number in the second act was fun and lightened the mood, but it felt misplaced.

Favorite scene: The swordfight, choreographed by Normand Beauregard, between Macbeth (Estrella) and Macduff (Steven Kidd). It was a believable, entertaining fight.

More info: Onstage through April 13. $20–$48. For tickets, call 401-723-4266 or visit gammtheatre.org.

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