I’ve been to Jobsite Theater’s Macbeth — and I’m confused.
I’m confused by the four actors who stay onstage through the whole pageant, taking on various roles with little or no change of costume. I don’t know who they’re playing half the time. This one seems to be a courtier — no, he’s an aristocrat — no, he’s a henchman. That one was terrific as a witch, but now is she a man or a woman? A lady in waiting? Somebody’s son or daughter? Katrina Stevenson is wonderful as one of the Weird Sisters, but who is she the rest of the time? Same with Chris Holcom, Jonathan Cho, and Maggie Mularz: all capable actors, and really riveting the 30 percent of the time when you can figure who they’re playing. Why didn’t Stevenson (who’s also the costumer) come up with better ways of distinguishing the various characters these four impersonate? Why are they all dressed in black? Doesn’t it matter who they are?
I’m confused by the trajectory Giles Davies follows in the lead role of Macbeth. I’m not a bit puzzled by who he is at any given moment — here he’s commanding, here he’s troubled, here he’s in a wild frenzy. But I just can’t figure out how he gets from one point to the next. Lady Macbeth tells us early in Act One that he has too much of “the milk of human kindness.” Why don’t I ever see that part of him? Anyone who knows the play knows that Macbeth starts out reluctant to murder his way to the kingship of Scotland, that he’s spurred on by his unscrupulous wife, and that eventually he gets so deep in blood and vice that he throws all caution behind him. So why doesn’t Davies — who speaks his lines with marvelous, if atomistic precision — take me on that journey in some coherent way? Only in the play’s last 10 minutes — when Macbeth has been tricked by the Sisters into thinking himself invulnerable, when the suicide of his wife has led him to an existential free fire zone — does Davies’ performance make sustained sense. Prior to that he’s just a series of passionate attitudes unconnected by a through line. This is particularly puzzling in that Davies is one of our best actors.
And finally, most regretfully, I’m confused by Dahlia Legault’s performance as Lady M. After watching this usually brilliant actress in the part, I have no idea what I’ve just seen. There’s not a credible interpretation here; there’s not a whole personality. The challenge of the role is Lady Macbeth’s start as a pitiless villain followed by her breakdown and suicide after the murderous deeds have been done. Does Legault give us a hint of her character’s vulnerability early in the performance, so that we can see how this seemingly minor weakness turns out to be definitive? No. Or maybe she wants us to see that Lady M. lives at such an extreme that it only takes some bloody murders to put her over the edge? No. Well, what’s her take on the character? I can’t say; she speaks the lines well enough, but, like Davies, she makes no overarching psychological sense. Does director Jenkins have something to do with this? Does he not have a vision for his main characters?
Fortunately, some elements of the production are excellent. Dayton Sinkia as Macduff is nothing short of superb. This actor knows his bold, courageous character, locks onto him and shows us his highest and lowest moments. Nicole Jeannine Smith as Lady Macduff is equally persuasive: this is a loving, intelligent woman whose presence of mind and care for her children make her perhaps the most radiant character in the whole tragedy. Dave Steinweg’s ominous sound design alerts us to the ghostliness of the play, and Brian Smallheer’s lighting is spookily effective. But Smallheer’s mediocre set — a round playing area with some stony cubes and a couple of tree stumps — detracts from the action, and Lorenzo de la Cantera’s projections on the large back screen are either murky or inapt. Stevenson’s modern costumes for the four actors who only play one role each are more than adequate, and it’s nicely surprising to see old Macbeth with a gun.
One last thing about this troubled production confuses me: on the afternoon I saw it, the audience gave it a standing ovation. I can only assume they didn’t know what they were missing: Shakespeare credibly played. Let me insist: I love Macbeth, I respect these actors, but this thing doesn’t work. I wish it did.
I walked into the theater anything but confused.