Contributing Critic - New York
In an age of inescapable information inundation, First Maria Ensemble’s “Macbeth,” directed with ferocity by Celeste Moratti, is a light in the dark. Lines are blurred between truth and fake news, leadership and tyranny, and this production shines with an earnest honesty to interrogate Shakespeare’s classic text in a way that can only be driven by our modern time’s aggrandization of the self in an increasingly isolating world.
While the cast moves deftly through the text with the speed and wit of colloquial conversation, the nods to present-day 2018 troubles are subtle and intellectual rather than literal in Moratti’s concept. The focus of this production revolves around the Witches, an omni-present character in this iteration that propels the action of the play through convincing people impossible, or fake, things are true. What begins as a bare stage with questionable fabric strewn about is transformed before our eyes into a living, breathing character wherein the entire ensemble embodies The Witches, creeping, crawling, and contorting under the stretchy fabric. The scenic design by Raffaella Toni is mesmerizing, swallowing and giving birth to the performers as they go in and out of madness, reality, and their own self-absorption. Being in the small blackbox of Teatro Círculo, one can’t help but feel trapped in an echo chamber of Macbeth’s journey; the numerous Witches hiss, chant, and reverberate through the room, as inescapable as an endless social media feed or one’s own inner thoughts. This is then further punctuated by an enticing score and sound design by Francesco Santalucia and Papaceccio, with drums, echoes, and chorus direction being used like the pounding in one’s head of a racing heartbeat inching closer to inevitable death.
Costumes, also by Toni, and lighting design by Pamela Kupper punctuate Macbeth’s tragic journey with precision. The lighting snaps between asides and reality, creating worlds both known and otherworldly through shadows and manipulation of color off of the Witches’ endless fabric. Additionally, the opening scene has the King and his men garbed in a pale blues reminiscent of the cleanliness of surgeons—this pristine look for all the ensemble to later be bloodied symbolically with quick inverses of hoods and sashes to red as they meet their demise. Unlike the rest, the Macbeths are each exposed in different ways, he on his chest and she on her back, exemplifying the costume design’s poignant magnifying of their completion of each other and unresolved weaknesses before the play’s action even begins.
Played by Ms. Moratti, Lady Macbeth mourns more than manipulates, yearns more than yields, and ultimately conveys a woman broken down by the loss of a child and subsequent loss of a husband’s sanity. In a time where this nation is fighting to validate the voices of all its people, Moratti’s Italian accent aids her compelling plea to “unsex her,” practically begging the audience to hear her as not a monster, but a struggling human pressed to make a choice for her family under extreme circumstances. Her counterpart, Tristan Colton, plays Macbeth with convincing confidence that erodes by the second act into the relentless paranoia and outrage as befits dethroned entitlement. Further standouts include Nina Ashe and Laura Montes as Lady and Child Macduff respectively, elucidating the heartbreaking consequences of the actions of those in power. Macduff (Nicholas Wilder) shows the vulnerability of man through a quiet, profound power and leadership that foils Macbeth’s rage tactics perfectly, yet by the tragic conclusion of the play, we are left asking if his violence is any more merited than Macbeth’s, or if this cycle of vengeance is as inescapable as the voices in our head nudging us ever on and on.
In a standout moment, John Hardin as the Porter brings some much-needed levity to the tragedy by breaking the fourth wall, engaging the audience in a drunken stupor of jokes lit fiendishly like a ghoul. Ingenious, this moment shows him as the only one who finds a way to literally break out of the play’s incessant voices and pounding in its head, and the world of the play rewards him by dismissing him as the crazy one, despite being surrounded by literal murderers. Hardin’s impassioned performance shows perhaps we all could use a little crazy if it means breaking through the murkiness of violent and fake news into the truth of honest human connection (even if it’s a little scary).
“Macbeth” stars Tristan Colton, Celeste Moratti, Doug Durlacher, Silas Brigham, Audrey Tchoukoua, Nicholas Wilder, Collin McConnell, Laura Montes, Nina Ashe and John Hardin.
The design team includes Raffaella Toni (Set and Costume Design), Pamela Kupper (Light Design), Francesco Santalucia (Music, Sound Design, Live Performance), Papaceccio (Sound Design, Chorus Direction), and Paige Carter (Stage Manager).
“Macbeth” runs at Teatro Circulo (64 East 4th Street, NYC 10003) through Friday December 21, 2018. Tickets for “Macbeth” can be purchased online at www.firstmaria.com, by calling the box office at (212) 868-4444, or in person on show days at the box-office at Teatro Circulo. For more information, please visit www.firstmaria.com. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
Photo: Witches. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.