— Bob Frazer & Colleen Wheeler. Photo: David Cooper
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” Macbeth announces at his entrance. “So foul and foul a day” is what he might have said at Saturday’s Bard on the Beach opening, as our June-uary weather made the inside of Bard’s big tent feel like Macbeth’s Scotland. In Act Two you could see the actors’ breath.
There is nothing really foul about Mile Potter’s production of Macbeth. It’s fair, but only fair. Considering the material and the talent—Bard’s stars Bob Frazer and Colleen Wheeler in the central roles— it should be better.
Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest, most intense tragedy. It’s also his spookiest and among his most violent. After the three “weird sisters” tell Macbeth that he’ll become king, he and Lady Macbeth quickly kill King Duncan. Macbeth then has his friend Banquo murdered and Macduff’s family slaughtered. Lady M. goes mad and dies, the Scots turn on Macbeth, and he meets his inevitable end.
It’s a familiar story—a 2012 production might easily be set in Syria and called Assad. It’s also familiar because of the great set-pieces: the weird sisters’ “Double, double, toil and trouble,” Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s feast, Lady Macbeth trying to wash invisible bloodstains off her hands. The director’s challenge is to make the familiar fresh while maintaining the intensity and foregrounding the psychological complexity of the Macbeths’ ambition and guilt.
As he did with his Richard the Third last season, Frazer infuses the warped title character with his own personal attractiveness and charisma. We see how easily Macbeth might have remained fair rather than turning foul, and his terror and remorse after killing Duncan (Bernard Cuffling) are very moving. With her powerful physical presence, Wheeler makes us immediately understand the influence she has over her husband. Both actors speak the verse—some of Shakespeare’s best—with crisp clarity.
But as Potter imagines them, the witches (Lois Anderson, Susan Coodin, Dawn Petten) are disappointingly dull. Dressed in the same earth-tones and tartan sashes in which designer Mara Gottler dresses almost everyone, their weirdness is undistinguished (flashlights under the chin—really?).
Banquo’s ghost (Craig Erickson) is grotesquely spooky and John Murphy is scary as a murderous figure appearing throughout the play. But the restraint with which Potter stages the horrifying killing of Lady Macduff (Petten) and her children dulls the effect of Macbeth’s most terrible act. Lady Macbeth’s great sleepwalking scene is also surprisingly underplayed.
Murray Price provides an excellent soundscape of shrieks, moans, and melodramatic music. Would that the whole show played as ominously as his score.