By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
|Photos by Steve Gunther|
Actor Stephen Dillane was feelinga certain ennui. He’d performed in London’s Royal National Theatre, on Broadway; he’d turned down the role of Macbeth for what he’s described as a point-of-view problem in an unworkable play. Two-thirds of Macbeth, he told the L.A. Times recently, is represented through the eyes of the title character, and then its focus drifts.
Dillane is at least half correct. Much of Act IV (of five acts) is devoted to those who have seen their families murdered by Macbeth and his henchman. Even if Macbeth isn’t center-stage for a few scenes, surely his victims are aspects of his conscience, just as, in King Lear, the treachery of the King’s daughters, and their partners-in-crime, is surely rolling around the old man’s head in scenes where King Lear is absent from the stage. So what, exactly, is Dillane’s problem with the play’s point of view? That Macbeth goes AWOL for most of Act IV? So does King Lear in his play, also in Act IV. Just because a character isn’t there doesn’t mean he isn’t there. It could be argued that, despite the occasional absence of the protagonist, every Shakespearean tragedy is really a one-man show.
In his solo rendition of Macbeth, Dillane and director Travis Preston have seized this idea by the horns and made it literal in order to correct a point-of-view problem that may not even exist. The exercise is a bit like replacing your car’s transmission because, whenever you shift gears, change falls out of your pocket. Are you really any richer after the trans job?
For reasons presumably having as much to do with his personal malaise as with Elizabethan literature, Dillane discussed the narrative "problem" of Macbethwith Preston, who had already imagined the play as a one-man show; Preston discussed it with Robert Blacker who was then running the Sundance Theater Labs. In the backwoods of Utah, the actor and director gave Macbeth (A Modern Ecstasy) — their Macbeth-as-solo-performance — a trial run. After Sundance, the pair continued to work on the project at CalArts in Valencia. The result of this experiment is now onstage at Disney Hall’s REDCAT Theater in a world premiere, presented by CalArts’ Center for New Theater, where Preston serves as artistic director.
The good news is that, in a magnificent, carefully modulated performance, beautifully staged by Preston and accompanied by three musicians, Dillane appears to have worked through his boredom with the art of acting. But whether or not Shakespeare’s play has also benefited is an open question.
Dillane appears barefoot in a silver-gray suit and maroon shirt on a wide stage that’s a pit of dark sand twinkling with golden nuggets under Benoît Beauchamp’s elemental lighting. Set designer Christopher Barreca places six plain screens in a row to provide a backdrop. When the lights blast in from one side, or the top, the actor’s shadow dances behind him in sundry contortions. This spartan anti-theatrical theatricality, with its slowly moving washes of white light on hues of gray — reflecting, I guess, the play’s rolling emotional clouds — is a bit Peter Sellars–ish and a bit Peter Stein–ish, custom designed for Europe’s theater festival circuit.
Talk about commanding the stage (the sand, actually), Dillane doesn’t move even an eyelid until the gesture is motivated from some recess within his bones. Taking his time, he opens the play by slowly raising an arm to sniff it, somewhat disgustedly. "What bloody man is that?" he asks — the first line, Duncan’s line, from Scene 2. (Scene 1 has been jettisoned.) As Dillane flits between and among characters with a cavalier ease that’s nonetheless split-second precise, so begins a gradual crescendo of energy and pace. Flipping into Macduff, the voice instantly drops half an octave, its very timbre suddenly resonating quiet thunder. Dillane’s hands go slightly limp as Lady Macbeth softly spits out her monstrous plots. He brushes through the Weird Sisters with a swiveling hand gesture, sprinting through "The hurly-burly’s done when the battle’s lost or won" — suggesting that, of course, we all already know about the hurly-burly, no point dwelling there. Malcolm stutters every time he approaches any word that begins with an "M," while Macbeth sounds a bit like a shoe salesman from Hackney, tortured by his horrible wife and the insanity of his own vaulting ambition. With its lightning-quick demands, the performance is a probing and therefore richer version of the Reduced Shakespeare Company farces which fly through the entire canon in an hour or so. Dillane and Preston have found a perfect blend of emotional investment and ironic retraction, of excavating and dusting, until the play’s rancid soul is lifted from the mire and exposed in those glaring lights.
Every syllable sparkles with a clarity of purpose that’s essentially musical, a quality reinforced by the sparing use of Vinny Golia’s original score, performed live. Mostly, it provides a rueful accompaniment to Dillane’s performance. (Golia plays a contrabass flute, which looks like a flute that’s ingested so many steroids that it now resembles a giant’s large intestine. Sometimes he steps away from the monster to play bass clarinet. Jeremy Davis assists on an electric guitar and "pedal effects," while the drum set — including a Gambian kutiro drum, timpani and gongs — is manned by Harris Eisenstadt.)
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city