With a woman on the campaign trail for the American presidency and the first woman president at Harvard, there’s no reason to deprive the opposite sex of such meaty theatrical roles.
Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is a play about overweening pride, a lust for life, and power beyond the normal – ambitions generally considered wired into the male genes. However, with a woman on the campaign trail for the American presidency and the first woman president at Harvard, there’s no reason to deprive the opposite sex of such meaty theatrical roles.
Or so the thinking goes at Actors’ Shakespeare Project, which has opened its fourth season with an all-female production of “Macbeth,” directed by Brandeis theater faculty member Adrianne Krstansky. The notion has its pluses and minuses, but the cast goes at the central theme of “blood begets blood” without let-up.
The payoff comes in the play’s other major subject: the guilt accompanying the actions to rob the ill-got gains of any sweetness. Without exception, the women understand and express this concept with a special poignancy.
In the capable hands of Krstansky, the scenes range across the odd-shaped space of
Boston University’s Studio 102, which is cut by two huge pillars and a two-story staircase at one end, used to good effect for some spectacular entrances and exits.
For the viewer, the issue of women playing men is noted at first and then accepted as the drama unfolds its fury. Marya Lowry plays Macbeth as a man haunted by urges to succeed beyond his position from his first entrance. Lowry has a powerful, low voice and a manner of walking in a long-stepped stride to create the physical metaphor of a man on the move.
She also speaks Shakespeare’s poetry with precision and striking enunciation, bringing a ringing clarity to the unforgettable soliloquies. As Lady Macbeth, Paula Plum, one of the most accomplished actors of the Boston theatrical community, delivers a different sensibility.
She’s more a help-mate and follower than leader once she pushes her husband into the first murder. It’s as if she only had the courage at the start and then falters. Her interpretation fits well into the concept of a female Macbeth, because there’s never a sense of rivalry in this partnership.
Plum’s sleepwalking scene is a marvel of rushing thoughts and writhing limbs, as if she’s forgotten what she meant to do and cannot rest until she remembers.
Yet missing between Lowry and Plum is the sexual connection that usually fuels the couple as if their private life in bed were always in their thoughts. In this production, Krstansky has transferred that energy to the three witches.
Bobbie Steinbach makes a fearful lead witch, then transforms into the stern but decent King Duncan, and next takes on the drunken Porter at the gate.
Jacqui Parker as Banquo and Sarah Newhouse as Macduff (and in the short scene of her murder, doubling as Lady Macduff ) further anchor the cast in their dignified portrayals of two good men victimized by Macbeth.
Although in this production of “Macbeth” Actors’ Shakespeare Project lives up to its mission to present the texts of Shakespeare’s plays cleanly, to make them live according to the language and motivations of the characters, one could wish for more of a show of pageantry. This play is also a military exercise, needing the contrast of the banners and marching men, or at least a royal retinue beyond the numbers fielded here.
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