Ready for a little blood and guts? How about regicide, suicide, and…whatever it is you call it when you have a close friend murdered?
At any rate, William Shakespeare has had you covered for a little over 400 years with Macbeth, his dark and grisly tragedy. And DC theater company “The Rude Mechanicals” has brought the work to Fringe with Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness.
If you slept through Macbeth during high school English, here’s the gist: Scottish Thane MacBeth (Alan Duda) is recently returned from battle, having vanquished the Irish and Norwegian enemies of Duncan (Michael McCarthy), King of Scotland. But we quickly learn that’s he’s descending into madness, and fueled by portents of three witches (Rebecca Speas, Diane Samuelson, Lauren Beward) he begins plotting his own rise to the throne.
But we quickly learn that’s he’s descending into madness, and fueled by portents of three witches he begins plotting his own rise to the throne.
His plan for doing so isn’t particularly complex, either: Kill the King and take his place, simple as that. With the equally-troubled Lady Macbeth (Jaki Demarest) urging him on, Macbeth commits the crime, wins the throne and proceeds to hack and slash at enemies both real and perceived in his fight to keep his crown.
Director Joshua Engel is aiming high for artistry, noting for us that “my first vision of [the play] was about the darkness, pierced by pinpricks of light.”
That’s pretty clear from the opening scenes, where Banquo (played by understudy Joe Kubinski in my performance) and Macbeth cut through the black-box darkness with their Maglites. The light vs. dark play continues with some well-thought out costume design for the witches and a commitment to a work that’s sparsely-lit throughout.
Overall I appreciated the artistic effort. But unfortunately much of what’s good about the production ends with the intentions.
The performances themselves are largely rigid and uninspired, and I had to wonder, “Is this a play which I see before me?” In truth, Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness could just as well have been a reading, instead of a full production, for how little was actually happening on stage at many points throughout. As often as not, there simply wasn’t anything going on from the neck down.
Occasionally, the direction took some strange turns as well. For as much as I appreciated the light vs. dark element, the Maglites slashed across the audience like Macbeth’s unholy sword, and with the lights dimmed everywhere else it sometimes had an effect that was less artistic and more blinding.
There were also some awkward moments where the actual dialogue was needlessly hard to hear. In one scene, Duncan and his entourage are speaking almost entirely with their backs to the audience. In another, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s attempts at an intimate moment unfortunately result in them delivering their lines into each others’ mouth. The intent is clear, but the words simply get lost.
Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness
by William Shakespeare
645 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots. Jaki Demarest is a powerful Lady Macbeth, and she particularly shines in her closing soliloquy. Likewise, Michael Robinson is tremendous as Macduff. His performance is energetic and meaty, with full-throated cries of remorse and a muscled attack on Macbeth that frankly snapped me back to attention and screamed “Yes! This is a play! A famous and exciting one!”
It’s unfortunate that there couldn’t have been more of that to carry Joshua Engel’s idea to fruition. But hey – if you’re a die-hard for Macbeth (and there are plenty of you out there), then go on out and enjoy yourself.
It’s not the best you’ll ever see, but it’s far from the worst.