Review: 'Macbeth' at Phoenix Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Oakville, CT - Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork decided to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death with a production of the tragedy of ‘Macbeth.’ In his notes, director John Long declines to jump into the controversy of who actually wrote the plays credited to the Bard, but writes that during the rehearsal process he and the cast were reminded of the greatness of the Scottish play. Scholars have argued over the both the meaning of the play and especially of the importance of the “weird sisters.” While some maintain the three witches simply prophesize the future, this production has the witches using magic to control the future. Therefore, the three sisters “take on additional roles that are instrumental in pushing Macbeth and other characters toward the resolution the witches desire.”

Assistant Director Tori Richnavsky is a former student of the director, as is her husband, the Fight Director Rob Richnavsky. Jameson Willey, the Lighting Designer is another former student. The talented Burton Tedesco, the chair of the department of the arts and instructor of theater at Naugatuck Valley Community College who takes on the title role, is joined onstage by five students from his program. The director concludes,  “These connections have helped us create an ensemble in which everyone has devoted a great deal of time to make a very old play come to life for a modern audience.”

I am well aware that a Shakespeare play is not everyone’s idea of a good time, especially the tragedies. I honestly cannot recall if I have ever seen a full production of ‘Macbeth,’ but I am sure that I have read it because I found myself saying many of the lines in my head along with the character. Of course Shakespeare requires intense concentration to follow the action (and to enjoy the language) and the PSC production was worth the effort. The fight scene that opened the tragedy, convincingly choreographed by Mr. Richnavsky, was the first of many and we knew that it would not end well.

Brian Bowyer made his PSC debut to play Banquo and Young Siward. Michael Calabrese returned to this stage as Fleance/Lord/Servant and Brian Elser, a castmate from ‘The Last Supper’ got to sit at another PSC table as a Lord, as well as Ross and Donalbain. Deborah Goodman was the doomed Lady McDuff and Daniel Morrow, who I saw in NVCC’s ‘Hairspray’ and CT Theater Company’s ‘Noises Off’ played McDuff and a soldier. 

The three sisters/witches were well-played by Lindsey Halliwell, Simone Matusevice and Beth Steinberg; Ms. Steinberg used her low voice so effectively. Preston James, another former castmate from an elementary school production, showed maturity in his acting as Malcolm. Retired professional actor Will Jeffries was a regal King Duncan and Kathryn Lynch made her community theatre debut as a gentlewoman. Aric Martin appeared as a soldier, Banquo’s son, a lord and a messenger. NVCC graduate Edward Montoya was a soldier, a lord and Seyton, while Leland M. Schick returns to this stage in the funny role of a porter, as well as a doctor. 

Phoenix Stage Company veteran Kristen Jacobson was spot on as Lady Macbeth; luminous as always, she made clear the level of her character’s ambition and her descent into madness. Mr. Tedesco brought tremendous acting skill to the role of Macbeth and gave special care to the delivery of the classic lines written by the Bard. I was engrossed in the performance of both halves of the royal couple. 

The stage was essentially bare, with only a black raised platform on one side, backed by a white screen that used projections to suggest locations and shadow puppets to get into the head of Macbeth. The costumes designed by Ed Bassett were Elizabethan in tone and very impressive, especially the costumes of Lady Macbeth, Hecate (Elizabeth Fricke) and the hoods of the three witches. Preston James and Aric Martin were in charge of make-up and the hair of Lady Macbeth done by production stylist Ms. Lynch was both intricate and flattering.

The play that must not be named inside the theater runs through June 18 at the Clockwork.