SALT LAKE CITY — Shakespeare remains one of the most produced playwrights even after over 400 years. And Macbeth is probably one of his most discussed plays. Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedy plays, and is the only Shakespeare play that has a theatrical curse associated with it. Even to speaking the very name of the play, outside of performance, is supposedly cursed. Despite the curse, Macbeth has been retooled as modern cinema, opera, even ballet. The new production by Pinnacle Acting Company is a very satisfying interpretation of this tragedy.
Macbeth tells the story of a Scottish general driven to murder by his desire for power. Adding fuel to his burning desire are the prophecies of the three weird sisters (i.e., witches) whose pronouncements drive much of the ensuing action. Macbeth and his wife proceed on a path of murder and deceit until they are both driven mad and Macbeth is finally killed in battle.
Pinnacle sets this tale in a non-descript medieval Scotland and portrays the various settings through the inventive use of three large set pieces designed by Roya Burton. These are three stairways, one of which has a platform at the top. These set pieces become hills, doorways, castles, and there is a smooth flow between scenes that helps keep the pace of the production lively. In addition to the set, the sound design by Sam Allen of this production was amazing. From the moment I entered the theater, the sound design helped to set the scene through the use of stunning music which creates a sense of mystery and dread throughout the production.
But all of this is mere window dressing if the performers are not up to the challenge. Co-artistic director Jared Larkin is well cast as Macbeth. He has the swagger and a presence that commands attention whenever he is on stage. interestingly, Larkin creates a very likeable Macbeth, in spite of all the murder and mayhem. And his flights into madness, especially in the banquet scene, are quite effective and chilling.
Melanie Nelson also provides an excellent Lady Macbeth who is a worthy counterpart to Larkin’s Macbeth. Nelson sets up Lady Macbeth well in her very first soliloquy and continues that drive through her final scene. (The mad scene is especially stark and moving.) Both Larkin and Nelson have a chemistry together that imbues their scenes with a compelling energy. The only thing that seemed somehow out of place was how quickly the Macbeths went from receiving the prophecies to being fully committed to killing the king. It just seemed to happen too quickly. But that’s a minor critique on an otherwise well-developed relationship.
This is a small cast Macbeth with only ten actors in the cast. This means that each actor, except the Macbeths, is playing multiple characters. One standout cast member is Joseph Kyle Rogan as Ross, Murderer, Seyton, and Apparition. Not only is Rogan excellent in his handling of the dialog, but he also created a unique stance and mannerism for each of his characters that makes it very clear what character he is portraying at any given moment. Suni Gigliotti was also very compelling as Malcolm, thanks to the great power and confidence in her performance. Suni, Anne Louise Brings, and Viviane Turman as the Witches also created a wonderful ensemble. Each witch carried a branch with a woodland mask attached and acted as individual parts, but of the same body in a very effective staging technique. With most of the cast doubling roles, it was helpful that costume designer Andrea Davenport succeeded in creating looks that distinguish the characters each actor played.
Despite the strong performances, there were some minor shortcomings and inconsistencies in this Macbeth. Director Alexandra Harbold stated in her director’s note that the play references seeds and plants and growing often. To this end the witches have their branches and literal twigs growing out of their headdresses. This was effective, but two of the three witches had bands covering their eyes, but not the third. It just seemed inconsistent. Likewise, much of Macbeth is written in verse, and some actors seemed to be caught up too much with the structure of the lines rather than delivering the content and meaning. Fortunately this was occasional, but did seem to take me out of the flow a bit when it occurred.
My final criticism regards a small strip of set at the very lip of the stage. I only bring it up because it is an element that appears to have taken some effort to include in the design, but didn’t really serve any purpose, as far as I can tell. There was a six inch strip at the lip of the stage that was filled with dirt or mulch. There were perhaps three times that this material was picked up or touched by the witches or Macbeth. I’m guessing this was done to help bring the seed, plant, growth subtext together, but for me it just seemed an odd addition that didn’t really deliver any tangible tie-in.
Those minor criticisms aside, Pinnacle Acting Company has a wonderful production of one of my favorite plays. Harbold has created a rich, tautly paced production. On the night I attended, the audience was small, but this Macbeth deserves to be seen by many, many more people. Pinnacle Acting Company has once again produced a stellar show.