Macbeth Theatre Review – A “Macbeth” immersed in murder and mayhem

Macduff (Mike Peebler) fights Macbeth (John Walcutt)

(Garden Grove, CA) August 16, 2013 – There’s a fine line between passion and ambition, and both of their emotional foundations are indeed different. Passion often stems from a person’s dreams and aspirations to succeed not only for themselves, but also for others. Passion, in most cases, is the desire fueled by charity and good will. Ambition, the darker twin of passion, is oftentimes fueled by the sins of pride and envy, to succeed for themselves only, and others be damned. For the title character in William Shakespeare’sThe Tragedy of Macbeth,” ambition is his sole sustenance to rule Scotland. In the expert hands of Shakespeare Orange County, this popular play proves to be an exciting end to their 2013 season.      

A sole bagpiper plays melodic hymns into the night, perfectly establishing the Scottish setting (courtesy of Tress Maksimuk from the Dark Isle Pipe Band, whose appearance was for Opening Night only). After defeating the allied forces of Norway and Ireland, Macbeth (John Walcutt) and Banquo (Carl Reggiardo) return to Scotland where they encounter three witches (a wraithlike Cindy Nguyen, a cadaveric Harrison Givens, and a simply “scary as hell” Alyssa Bradac; all are frightening and movingly profound). These three specters present to the warriors a series of prophesies, most notably Macbeth’s rise in political and regal power. These apparitions initially don’t bother Macbeth, until a couple of predictions come true, which plants a small seed of ambition not only in the Scottish warrior, but also his wife (Evelyn Carol Case). As the two slowly become submerged into their own pool of powerlust, both take matters in their own hands by striving to become rulers of Scotland. Blood is spilled, bodies are piling up, and Scottish lords—led by the murdered king’s heir, Malcom (Nick Reinhardt)—rebel against the tyrant in order to bring sanity back to Scotland.

Macbeth and his wife (John Walcutt and Evelyn Carol Case) look toward an uncertain future

In his last three appearances at Shakespeare Orange County (SOC), Walcutt has shown tremendous range in his roles as Cassius (“Julius Caesar”), Richard III and Malvolio (“Twelfth Night”). However, those roles are very much solidified with regard to their personality make-up and emotional journeys. The title role of Macbeth is considerably more complex because the character has to be a charismatic, likable warrior at the beginning of the play, but slowly deteriorate into a blood-thirsty, paranoid despot. Too often, talented seasoned actors emotionally rocket from 0 to 100 mph in this portrayal, showing absolutely no transition of Macbeth’s transformation. Not surprisingly though, Walcutt accomplishes what is perhaps his most intricate, most effective performance at the SOC stage so far. In the beginning, his Macbeth is a respectful, loyal warrior to his comrades, his king, and especially his wife. But when he learns of these prophesies, the integrity that composes his being slowly evaporates and Walcutt harnesses his control of this deterioration with the patience of an meticulous watchmaker. The more blood he spills, the more ruthless, ambitious, and paranoid he becomes, fueling his pride which results in his downfall. It’s a masterful portrayal that Walcutt achieves in this spectacular production.

Evelyn Carol Case gives an equally moving performance as Lady Macbeth, but chooses a different tactic than Walcutt. Case—a normally dynamic artist—is at first surprisingly stiff and restrained. Her eloquence of the Bard’s poetics is incredible, but her physicality is very still. However, that stiffness is very deceiving; it reveals an iciness that is very reminiscent of the Evil Queen from Walt Disney’sSnow White.” The evil ambition is there, but well hidden until at the magical moment where she beckons the spirits to “unsex me here,/and fill me from the crown to the toe topful/ of direst cruelty.” From then on, Case transforms into an unbridled, lustful mate who becomes the catalyst to Macbeth’s own ambition and emotionally castrates him for hesitating in his acts.  The more evil these two commit, the more insane she becomes. There is one moment where Macbeth orders the death of Macduff’s family that Case displays a look of fear that she may have gone too far when she opened this Pandora’s Box of coldblooded ambition. And that fear wonderfully melts into guilt as Case tries to rub the imaginary blood from her hands during her famous, “Out, damn spot,” soliloquy. Case is impressively powerful and she makes a nice match for Walcutt.

The three witches (from l to r, Alyssa Bradac, Cindy Nguyen, and Harrison Givens) conjure a dark spell

The supporting cast is uniformly perfect in their roles. Mike Peebler’s Macduff is filled with a war-savvy cautiousness until his emotional armor is broken when disaster strikes him and his family; a truly heartbreaking performance. Reggiardo is a benevolent Banquo who provides the voice of reason to Macbeth’s ambitions, but to no avail. Reinhardt’s Malcolm is charismatic and his fluidic articulacy and projection matches that of the SOC veterans. But the impressive standout performances come from the cameo appearances of Amanda Arbues and Craig Brown. Arbues is elegantly potent as Lady Macduff, who shows a tragic maternal strength and courage, a portrayal that was a total opposite to her hilarious SOC debut in “Twelfth Night,” and hopefully her two appearances this season will lead to more in the future with this Orange County theater company.  And then there is Brown, who steals the stage as the drunken porter, instantly winning the audience over with his rants about the pleasures and pains of alcohol. His comedic presence, as he wonderfully accomplished as Dogberry in SOC’sMuch Ado About Nothing,” provided much levity to the bloody drama that occurs in “Macbeth.”   

Macbeth (John Walcutt) ponders at the murder he has committed

But the crowning touch of this entire production is Thomas F. Bradac’s flawless direction and vision, which combines period Scotland with an apocalyptic “steam-punk” scenic design and especially the wardrobe (courtesy of Katie Wilson). It’s a nice anachronistic interpretation that adds to the text and performances, rather than diminishing them. This is a perfect finale for Bradac as he, after 22 years, turns over his position as artistic director to John Walcutt. And with this new visionary direction, Shakespeare Orange County will continue to evolve and grow in many years to come.

Macbeth opened August 16 and runs to August 31

Tickets: $32---714-590-1575

Shakespeare Orange County
The Festival Amphitheatre, 12740 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA
Photos by Amy Tabback and Jordan Kubat


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