William Shakespeare had more than an Elizabethan gift of gab. Few would argue his plays feature some of the richest dialogue ever written. What is less commonly noted but equally impressive is his extraordinary insight into human nature. Macbeth is a tragic drama remarkable for its exceptional display of both these abilities possessed by the Bard.
In Long Beach Playhouse’s current production, Jonathan Lamer plays the nobleman Macbeth, who has everything that matters: an attractive and loving wife whom he adores, children, wealth, two titles and a recent victory in battle. He is admired by Scotland’s benevolent king and has loyal comrades. Lamer’s introspective and powerful performance could single-handedly establish the production’s quality if it had to.
When Macbeth encounters three witches who predict his future, he and Lady Macbeth are hard-pressed to leave well enough alone. They become obsessed with making the prophesies come true. The pair’s lust for power becomes a tale of bloody betrayal, leading to guilt and paranoia that multiply to a fever pitch. Death and destruction continue to ensue until Macbeth’s fears of vengeance against him impel him to seek a second round of forecasts from the witches.
Blaire Chandler’s Lady Macbeth is every bit an equal to Lamer’s Macbeth. The two are extremely well cast and achieve a fiery chemistry that also reveals intimate affection. Theirs are complex and highly nuanced roles that are nailed by the actors.
Nicole Dominguez directs her cast on a spare set, creatively rendered by designer Tatiana Kulianoff. The scenic minimalism is perhaps meant to emphasize the ambiguity of time and place Dominguez purposely sets up for this production.
This version of the popular tragedy depicts a markedly updated style while still evoking the past. English accents are not even attempted, while Shakespeare’s distinctive lines are uttered with forceful purpose and emotion.
As the three witches, Whitton Frank, Jennie Sheffield, and Sarah Green writhe and hiss with mesmerizing sensual abandon. Costumed a bit like the Goth characters out of Rocky Horror Show, they illuminate Dominguez’s intended ambiguity of time setting more than any other characters do. Costume designer Donna Fritsche has taken a very effective but more traditional approach with the play’s other characters.
When the witches predict what Macbeth believes to be impossible, he is pacified in his assessment that he is safe from his enemies’ reprisals.
This is a gritty Macbeth that strives for realism rather than mere suggestion. Assassinations are unapologetically executed. Macbeth’s mental anguish over his dirty deeds is palpable. Director and cast clearly depend on Shakespeare’s metaphorical excellence to drive the play’s plot, employing few technical elements to attain clarity. But clarity is achieved in spades, thanks to the primary actors’ careful and deliberate expression.
Other able performances are by Wayne Baldwin, Jonathan Hamrick, Alexander Shewchuk, Ben Montague, O’Neil Cespedes, Daniel Nakawatase, Vonzell Carter, Kieran Flanagan, Jason Denuszek, Amber Morse, and Zack Tobin.
This is a fine Macbeth that would make the Bard proud.
Macbeth continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through Aug. 18. This production is for mature audiences because of graphic violence and suggestive sexual content. General admission tickets are $24 and $21 for seniors. Student tickets are $14 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org .