Live Theatre

The posters for this show contain the first hint of trouble: Macbeth: Warrior, Lover, King. Why the subtitle for one of the best-known works of Western literature? Sounds like that archenemy of art–pretension.

The program contains another hint: “Live Theatre is committed to genderless casting. There is no underlying symbolism or politics in the casting of men as witches or females in the roles of Malcolm and Rosse. They are people playing people.” Then why the “e” at the end of Ross? Why the pointless attempt to feminize the name?

But the beginning of this Live Theatre production actually offers a glimmer of hope. The lights come up on a naked man curled on the floor of the tiny stage with his back to the audience. At the rear of the stage, an upright six-foot tube of paper begins to undulate, and a naked woman begins ripping her way out of the bag, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The two figures are then joined by another naked woman, and the three enact a pantomime consisting of brief scenes symbolizing aspects of Macbeth. In one, the man is stabbed. In another, one of the naked figures arises from what appears to be a crypt. Something interesting may actually develop, it seems.

But as soon as the play proper begins, any hopes for a provocative, profound Macbeth are dashed. The actors seem to be straining mightily just to deliver their lines: they hesitate, then they hurry. The night I was there an actress, playing a male, blithely reversed one of Shakespeare’s most quoted lines. Drink, she/he intoned, “provokes the performance, but it takes away the desire.” (There may be something to that, though.)

The actors’ uncertainties, coupled with an utter inability to capture even an echo of Shakespeare’s rhythms, make this Macbeth look like a high school production. David Denoon, who plays Macbeth, could actually pass for a high school student. He has a fresh, youthful face and bright eyes, and a tendency to smile sweetly at all the wrong times–suggesting he doesn’t have a clue what his lines mean. While anguishing over the murder of Duncan, for example, Denoon suddenly breaks into one of those smiles. It’s not a nervous smile, the type that relieves anxiety–that might make some sense. It’s a pleasant, sweet smile, in the context making Denoon seem almost catatonic, completely disconnected from the material.

Lady Macbeth, played by Corrina Maurio, is also very young–but youth is not the problem. True, Macbeth and his wife are usually portrayed as middle-aged people who know each other very well. Their treachery seems to spring from a shared desire to gain power. But they could just as well be newlyweds, with Macbeth still driven by desire for his wife and easily persuaded to do her bidding. But this possibility is subverted by director A.C. Thomas’s bizarre decision to portray Lady Macbeth as an airhead. She talks baby talk when she wants her way, and skips across the stage with excitement after reading a letter from her husband. And she looks like a bimbo–her dresses (designed by Doreen Bousquet) are slit almost to the waist.

What is going on here? I suspect this Macbeth is another attempt, so common in the world of art, at profundity that lapses into pretension. For a small company like the Live Theatre, the mere attempt at Shakespeare is almost an act of pretension–at the very least it’s self-indulgent. Novice actors and directors should try Shakespeare for the sake of exploring the material and testing their abilities. But when you charge admission, you’re in show business. The Live Theatre should pay us to sit through this Macbeth.