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‘Macbeth’ visuals the best part of ATC production



The Arizona Theatre Company production of “Macbeth” is so dramatic visually, with lighting and sound cues so effective at explaining the action on stage, words are scarcely necessary. The actors could be speaking most any language and it wouldn’t make much difference.

This being a Shakespeare play and all, that may not be a good thing. But it’s certainly true. British director Stephen Wrentmore has given his “Macbeth” such a strikingly original look, the production qualities upstage the dialogue. Credit the creative team of Scott Weldin, scenic designer; David Kay Mickelsen, costume designer; Rick Paulsen, lighting designer; Roberta Carlson, composer of the atmospheric music; Brian Jerome Peterson, resident sound designer; and Martin Christoffel and Lara Kaminsky, projection designers.

Wrentmore has set “Macbeth” in a more modern time. It feels like a vague blend of 20th-century fashions from those decades between the two world wars. So when he projects softly focused pictures onto a ragged-edged scrim hanging from the theater’s proscenium arch, the effect feels like images flickering out of your own dusty memory banks.

At other times, this impromptu screen is used to show movie newsreel scenes of Macbeth (Matt Loney) addressing the multitudes. In one imaginative sequence a row of people in theater seats is shown in silhouette from the back, watching the closing scene of a black-and-white movie.

After the movie comes a newsreel describing how difficult life has been under the new King Macbeth. It is cleverly done and quite effective in projecting a sense of the troubled ruler as a media figure.

Loney himself is not nearly as successful projecting the personality of a strong and persuasive leader being eaten away by guilt. In the play’s beginning he doesn’t project battlefield power or a willfulness to victory. He looks and acts more like one of those troubled heroes in a 1940s crime movie. His dissolve into indecision isn’t that much of a fall. It’s more like a staggering stumble.

Lady Macbeth (Celeste Ciulla) also feels smaller than her image in Shakespearian lore. She isn’t so much a behind-the-scenes manipulator such as Iago in “Othello.” She’s more of a nag who, when the going gets rough, crumbles into helplessness. Just like Loney’s Macbeth, the arc of her journey though the play feels shallow.

As with most Tucson productions of “Macbeth” in the past few decades, it is the three witches who steal the show. Wrentmore has conceived them in such a cinematic way that they become more than witches. Their presence adds a psychological force constantly reminding us how logical thought can be so worthless when fighting against the forces of darker desires.

The witches are played by Deborah Fialkow, Christen Simon and Maren Maclean. In this production their jangling spirits fill the guises of journalists, photographers, police figures – the whole lot of flotsam always swirling at the edge of today’s modern media circus.

Consequently, they may don different coats and hats on occasion, but we always see their coon-eyed gray specter faces. Underneath these temporary disguises we know they are wrapped in the rags of dissolute mummies who delight in messing with Macbeth.

Although the shadows hold more substance than does the light in this 400-year-old play, Wrentmore has found an interpretation that understands the nature of celebrity in our electronic age. No matter how flat our computer screens, or how quickly political news can be flashed around the world, human nature still hasn’t changed very much. Shakespeare had it right all along.


What: Arizona Theatre Company presents “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare.

When: Various times Tuesdays through Sundays to April 30.

Where: The Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

Tickets: $26-44, for details and reservations phone 622-2823, or go online to www.arizonatheatre.org

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