In 2009, two local actors dubbed themselves Intrepid Shakespeare Company and mounted a production of Macbeth at the Sixth and Penn Theatre (now ion’s BlkBox). Sean Cox played the ill-fated Scottish King, and Christy Yael, his partner in both business and life, played Lady Macbeth. The troupe was plucky, very-low-budget, and quick on its feet – its Macbeth sped by.
Intrepid Shakespeare played a couple of other dates that first season, including a King John that blew a lot of the theatre community’s socks off, even though it was presented in a storefront and had the trolley passing by fairly frequently.
Then, an opportunity to move to Encinitas came up, and Intrepid ended up comfortably situated at the San Dieguito Academy’s arts center. There was work to be done with students, a company to keep happy (with a series of readings), and a community to serve that heretofore had no professional theatre company to call its own.
So, five years later, Christy and Sean Yael-Cox (as they are now billing themselves) decided to revisit Macbeth as the company’s lucky 13th production, with Ms. Yael-Cox directing. Growing more comfortable, and, as a result, less fleet-footed, shows in mixed results for #13.
First, let me say that there is some good work going on here. Several of the performances are solid; some are excellent (I’ll come back to this point). Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound, in particular, is thrilling in its selection of well-considered musical interludes and appropriately-placed sound effects. But, Macbeth is a spooky play, and this production may have its gore but it isn’t very spooky.
The problem, I think, is the lack of a core, which leaves a bunch of artists looking around for how they can fill a center-less space. I looked for an overarching theme to the production (sexual passion seemed to be it in the earlier version). The closest I could come was a demonstration of female power, as the scenes with the small number of women characters (and I’m counting the witches as women) were the most coherent and best-directed ones.
This theme makes a certain amount of sense, as Macbeth is the first play Shakespeare wrote for Queen Elizabeth’s successor, the Scottish King James. Brits worried that their new monarch, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, might be too close to the Catholic Church and resurrect tensions with the Protestant Church of England, and Macbeth might well be read as a cautionary tale of a Scottish king who succumbed to the power of women. Or, even a Scottish king who might find it difficult to follow a powerful woman to the throne.
But, while the female power theme held up in watching the scenes with women, it didn’t hold up so well otherwise. Mainly, the problem lay, I think, with Mr. Yael-Cox’s performance as Macbeth, particularly before intermission. Macbeth is admired for his ferocity in battle, his leadership ability, and his rhetorical skills. Mr. Yael-Cox was more like a puppy dog begging for approval, sawing the air with his hands like a beginning public speaking student, and racing through Macbeth’s eloquent soliloquies, effectively nullifying their effect. He regained his footing after the intermission, when Macbeth was forced onto the field of battle again, and his rhetorical skill was more in tune with that of the actor whose work I have admired in the past. Was it a bad night? I don’t know, but the choices were certainly odd.
When there’s no center, other actors have to make decisions how to cope with that problem. The most effective of those chose to hold a steady course, and delineate their characters calmly and with precision. I’m thinking in particular here of Francis Gercke’s Banquo, which was a model of understated effectiveness, and young Eric Parmer’s ability to represent all of Macbeth’s subordinate thanes in one person (whole roles have been cut, and lines of various characters have been reassigned, with occasionally a jarring effect). Mr. Parmer is a recent graduate of the theatre program at UC Irvine, and if his work in this production is an indicator of his skill as an actor, we should look forward to excellent performances from him in the future.
Others deserving special mention are the three witches, Savvy Scopelleti, Tiffany Tang, and Erin Peterson, whose scenes are by far the most effective ones in the production, and Jim Chovick, who, as the comic-relief porter, had a good deal of fun assigning a special place in hell to a local theatre critic. Mr. Chovick’s character is listed as Seyton in the program (pronounced “Satan” by the cast), however, and he does double duty as a murderer. Was Satan really trying to take over Scotland? There’s some indication in this production that such might be so, but again there were only hints and the theme didn’t emerge fully.
I should also mention Sandy Campbell as Lady Macbeth. Ms. Campbell is a very accomplished actress, and her performance suffered most from the lack of a center. With Lady Macbeth, you can’t really hone to the steady course, you have to go for it. Unfortunately, going for it is hard when your Macbeth is only sometimes playing with you.
I realize that I’m making this production sound like a failure, but it’s not. It’s just inconsistent and suffers from lack of a coherent direction. Take a drive to Encinitas and see for yourself.
[box] Macbeth runs January 31 – February 16, 2014 at San Dieguito Academy, just east of the I-5 freeway on Santa Fe Drive. Abundant free parking is available. Performance times are Wednesday & Thursday 7:30pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 4pm & 8pm / Sunday 2pm & 7pm.