Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Macbeth" and "Murder and Mayhem on Main Street?" Reviews


September 13, 2007

By Christopher Murray

When stoking his intent to kill a king, Macbeth reflects that he has "only vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself." Much the same might be said of ShakespeareNYC's production of the Scottish play. Ambition is certainly not lacking in the company's stated goal of producing the bard of Avon's entire canon, but Macbeth, curse aside, is a difficult play to perform effectively, with its unrelenting progress toward ever more bloodshed and horror.

Under the direction of Beverly Bullock, James Beaman as Macbeth begins with a strong attack. His sturdy baritone speaks verse well and with good clarity, and his haunted eyes reveal depth. Unfortunately, he is unable to sustain a coherent interpretation of the role in a production weighted down with clumsy blocking, poor lighting that often keeps actors' faces in shadows, and an overemphasis on costuming and posturing at the expense of clear storytelling and illuminated conflict.

The witches' early appearance as harbingers of prophecy also forecasts the production's weaknesses, thanks to their masked faces, Halloween capes with pointed hoods, poor diction, and cascades of shrill cackles unconnected to any textual meaning. When they doff their crone's disguises and emerge as seductive beauties in party dresses, one with plastic mice running up the front, one's fears are only confirmed.

Another significant problem is Brandon Giles' set design: A false proscenium divides downstage from upstage with a series of light cloth curtains that are unable to sufficiently mask scene changes either visually or aurally.These issues and others serve to obscure the potentially interesting work of actors like Jim Jack, whose stately Banquo is every inch the professional soldier and loving father, and Susanna Harris, who even in her Disney villainess costumes strives to reveal the invidious essence and tortured inner life of Lady Macbeth.

Presented by ShakespeareNYC at the Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.Sept 7-22. Thu., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.(212) 279-4200 or

Melodrama and Mayhem on Main Street?

September 13, 2007

By Christopher Murray

Women Seeking... is a 10-year-old theatre company dedicated to presenting works that showcase women artists. Its current production harkens back to the work of three early-20th-century female playwrights who broke new ground in dramatic form while crashing through gender barriers.

Journalist Susan Glaspell and playwright-producer Alice Gerstenberg both helped found innovative theatres — the Provincetown Players for the former, the Chicago Little Theatre and the Playwrights' Theatre of Chicago for the latter — while Louise Bryant may be best remembered now for Diane Keaton's portrayal of her as John Reed's lover in Warren Beatty's film Reds. Bryant was a dedicated community organizer and saw drama as a powerful way to influence events, including women's rights.

Melodrama and Mayhem on Main Street? comprises six one-acts: three by Bryant — including the world premiere of From Paris to Main Street, unearthed from the archives at Yale University — two by Gerstenberg, and one by Pulitzer winner Glaspell. All of the plays examine the transitioning role of women in the years leading up to World War II.

The evening's opener, The Game, penned by Bryant, is a discourse between personifications of life and death as they roll dice for the fates of two young people, who represent beauty and poetry. It's not really a dramatic situation but an argument. Bryant is exploring archetypes for their relevance in everyday lives. Unfortunately, it creaks a fair amount today.

But some of the other pieces still pack a punch, particularly Trifles by Glaspell, in which the residents of a small rural community try to understand a wife's murder of her husband on the couple's lonely farm. Gender perspectives are movingly demonstrated: While the men look for evidence of motive, the women reluctantly stitch together a tale of cruelty from the quotidian details left behind. The beginnings of a patchwork blanket and a jar of preserves reveal telling clues to the murder, clues that the men just don't have eyes to see.

Some of the actors are stiff and amateurish, but their devotion to the material is infectious. Hannah Ingram as a newly married Parisienne and Anna Malinoski as a society matron's long-suffering daughter stand out.

Presented by Women Seeking…at the Kraine Theatre, 85 E. Fourth St., NYC.Sept. 5-29. Tue. and Wed., 7:30 pm; Mon. and Sat., 3 p.m.(212) 868-4444 or

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