If you go
‘MacBeth, a Love Story’
What: Shakespeare in Paradise presents a targeted, abridged version of the bard’s classic
Where: Naples Botanical Garden, 4820 Bayshore Drive
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays Jan. 20 through 30; two 2 p.m. Sunday matinees on Jan. 23 & Jan. 30
Admission: Evening performances are $20 for Naples Botanical Garden Members, $25 non-members; Matinees are $12.95 for adults, $7.95 for kids 4-14 and free for members
NAPLES — Shakespeare in Paradise's trimmed-down production of the Bard's "Macbeth" opened at Naples Botanical Garden Thursday night, with a moody atmosphere and dramatic staging making up for in style what the production lacks in polish.
"Macbeth" was William Shakespeare's shortest tragedy; others include "King Lear" and "Hamlet." For anyone who slept through high school English, the play tells of a general with a power-mad wife who murders his way to the throne of Scotland. For this production, John McKerrow sliced nearly everything but scenes with and between MacBeth and Lady MacBeth, leaving two of Shakespeare's greatest creations to star in "MacBeth, A Love Story."
McKerrow's hour-long approach to the Bard contains much to like. Many of the play's memorable scenes show up: witches, prophecies, Banquo's ghost, Lady Macbeth's somnolent confession (and the famous line about the spot), when Birnam Wood do come to high Dunsinane hill and more. "Macbeth, A Love Story" brings the complex relationship between MacBeth and Lady Macbeth to the fore - with just a quartet of actors; there were 18 named roles in the original text, plus witches and assorted gentlemen, soldiers, messengers and servants.
What's left is spicy, fiery and fun to watch - not the least because all that with people droning on about thanes and kinsmen and "all the particulars of vice so grafted" are gone out the castle window. Some of the context (who's doing what to who and why) gets lost in all the cutting though - especially the devilish plotting that leads to the king's murder. The scenes aren't crucial (obviously) - and non-Shakespeare fans certainly won't miss them - but it can leave the show feeling a bit like a tangy "Best Scenes from Macbeth" appetizer instead of a juicy Shakespearean steak.
McKerrow brands his treacherous general with plenty of fire and vigor. He's the savage alpha male of the relationship, with Kathleen Butler Gravatt playing a simpering, slinky, clinging Lady Macbeth. Gravatt's portrayal fits with the focus on the "Love Story" McKerrow wants to portray here, not the devouring she-wolf many actresses create out of Lady Macbeth. The desperate banquet scene - when Macbeth sees murdered Banquo's ghost - highlights their desperate, steamy chemistry as lovers locked in the midst of madness.
Mark Vanagas and Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow play a variety of supporting roles. A masked Vanagas uses two hand puppets of his own design to create the trio of witches and bring them to swooping, flying scary life. The cackling, brooding prophecies are among the best scenes of the play. He and McAvoy McKerrow also stand brooding witness as nurse and doctor to Lady Macbeth's infamous confession - a scene that plays out in near silence as each word, each line falls with chilling finality over the watery expanse in front of the stage and resounds out into the trees.
Sparkling, slinky jewel-tone costumes, designed by Mary Anne McAvoy McKerrow (no fluttering ruffles here), showcase the sultry nature of the play. Gravatt goes from a housecoat trimmed in leopard fur to a deep royal blue velvet to a glittering scarlet ballgown. Gentlemen wear tuxes - or trenchcoats and paramilitary gear. On a different subject, McAvoy McKerrow's routine from Act II, Scene III as a porter gets a bit lost in the bigger picture of the play - but it highlights her comedic skills.
McKerrow lands a real coup in getting such a spectacular backdrop for his nascent company; the group performs on a stage in the middle of the Water Garden, the same space where Jazz in the Garden is held. The atmosphere far outweighs the quirks (cranky mics, lighting glitches, braying bullfrogs) that come with staging an outdoor show in a temporary space. If possible, just as New York was the fifth character of "Sex and the City," the Botanical Garden might fit that role here. Audiences also get the chance to appreciate the symbolism of Lady Macbeth trying to wash the metaphorical blood off her hands while surrounded by water or lines about Birnam Wood coming amidst a real forest. Wear long sleeves or bring bug spray for the mosquitoes though.
"Macbeth, A Love Story" brings the central relationship in one of Shakespeare's great tragedies to light with a new twist. Four actors turn the Bard inside out and back again. Don't miss the witches, Lady Macbeth's confession or Macbeth's final breakdown - although a visit to the "Macbeth" entry on Wikipedia might be advisable before you go.
Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. E-mail me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.