Saturday, December 22, 2012

SUNY New Paltz Theatre Department's production of Shakespeare's Macbeth

On Friday December 7, 2012, I attended the production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth staged by the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz and directed by Paul Kassel. This modern take on one of the Bard’s darkest and most powerful plays was set in a Eurasian country beset by civil war. The set’s scaffolding and broken columns portrayed a nation on the brink of ruin and in desperate need of rescue. The play opened to the sounds of modern warfare, with gunshots ringing out as civilians fled for cover. Male and female soldiers dressed in fatigues and armed with contemporary weaponry rushed onstage after them as skirmishes began. In a matter of moments, the fighting ended, and King Duncan (Evan Davis Russell) entered victoriously with his retinue.
            This opening sequence was played to good effect, setting the stage for the events of violence and terror that would follow throughout the course of the play. Macbeth’s world begins in bloodshed and will inevitably end in likewise fashion. This production also took a refreshing take on the character of King Duncan, having him clothed in the business-suit attire of modern world leaders rather than the military get-up of his subordinates, indicating that this is a king who does not do his own fighting. When Macbeth (Stefan Brundage) is hailed by the Witches as “king,” it is not surprising because it was he, along with Banquo, who led King Duncan’s forces to defeat the traitors Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor in the preceding battle. Macbeth has proven himself to be a capable leader—why should he not be king?
            The same can be said of Banquo (Paul Boothroyd), though he shows more humanity and patience. He is fated to be the father of kings, a fitting destiny for a worthy man willing to wait for his fortune. Boothroyd’s Banquo played a composed contrast to Brundage’s overeager Macbeth. Brundage’s take on the title character was an extreme but effective one; from the outset, the audience is acutely aware of the instability within him. Therefore, Lady Macbeth (Robin Epes) is the perfect match for him. She is the cool and calculated half of the pair. It is she who harnesses and realizes Macbeth’s and her own ambition. Epes successfully captured the essence of Lady Macbeth’s character. Although arrayed in distinctly feminine and high-fashion clothing, this Lady Macbeth “unsexes” herself with her deep voice, aggression, and intensity.
            The play’s minor characters were played well, though some were more memorable than others. The female actresses in the male roles accented the modernity of the setting, a highlight of the entire production. Shaquana Bell’s Porter gave the audience a break from the negative atmosphere. A breath of fresh air, her extemporaneous take on the Porter’s speech was humorous and memorable. Michael O’Connor appropriately portrayed the vengeful Macduff, and Brendan Quinn was a suitable Malcolm in the production.
This production did, however, have some minor flaws in my opinion. Although Kassel chose to re-locate and update the events of the play—a bold decision as a director—the titles of nobility and place names remained those of medieval Scotland, which made for an awkward incongruity between time periods. Such awkwardness occurs in other productions like Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, where the language and setting are of two different times, but it might just be a personal preference of mine to not mix archaic dialogue with a contemporary setting. (Then again, altering the dialogue would change Shakespeare’s words, which is a travesty to even consider.) Kassel also chose to present a bizarre interpretation of the Witches, instead characterizing their presence on stage as merely spiritual possessions of other bodies. On one hand, this choice made for interesting and rather chilling moments on stage; however, I was slightly confused when random characters were suddenly emitting eerily robotic vocals—it made me think that everyone had the potential for becoming a witch.
Overall, I did enjoy the production very much, and I have a lot of respect for the director, players, and the stage crew who assembled a beautiful and effective set. Out of the few Shakespeare productions I’ve seen in my life, the one put on by the SUNY New Paltz Theatre Department was certainly the most memorable, and I commend all of those involved for their successful interpretation of a timeless Shakespearean classic.

Friday, December 21, 2012

SUNY New Paltz Macbeth Falls Flat

While there were many things I thoroughly enjoyed about the SUNY New Paltz production of Macbeth, the play as a whole fell flat for me; some of the concepts were amazing but poorly executed, the lead role of Macbeth was out-acted and some of the scenes were rushed and confusing.

To start with the high points, the sound and special effects were phenomenal; the realistic gun props even gave me an uneasy feeling at the start of the play ("what if they were real, we wouldn't know until real bullets were fired!) which, considering Macbeth is a supernaturally-influenced tragedy, was appropriate. The stage itself was set-up to make the most use out of a small space; the scene changes had a lot of versatility to work with (however again, the execution of changing scenes was at best confusing and at worst unbelievable).

Knowing that Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, I was expecting a lot of fast action; the action was definitely fast but not exactly easy to understand. Had I no previous knowledge of Macbeth, I think I would have been utterly confused throughout the entire performance (and seeing as I had just read the play, the fact that I was still confused points to poor management of time, stage directions and scene changes). I needed to continuously reference the scene changes on the Playbill to keep up; I expected some kind of indication with props or even sound effects to cue an outdoor scene, a bedroom scene, etc. I was also sorely disappointed that the murder of King Duncan was done behind the scenes and not attempted in front of the audience but, hey, I s'pose you can't have everything. Finally, I thought that Macbeth's performance itself was largely out-shined by the believable portrayals of Lady Macbeth, King Duncan and Macduff. I was waiting with baited breath to see a real obvious destruction visible in Macbeth, culminating with an overall sense of loss (with life, purpose, meaning, etc.) and frankly, saw very few character changes through his performance. Granted, it was a short play (as Shakespeare intended) but I found both Lady Macbeth's dissension into insanity and Macduff's quick switch to utter rage to be both believable and obvious.

Finally, the much waited-for witches worked and didn't work for me as a viewer. I found the first scene with them to be excellent; the possession of the dead civilian bodies was creepy and sort-of believable; I liked the side-step away from the traditional portrayal of witches and was excited to see what else they would do. However, the random possessions throughout the play didn't hit-home with me and seemed both random and confusing; did the other characters realized someone was a witch, or was it purely for the audience and- if so- what exactly was the point? Rather than reinforcing creepiness I found it to be distracting. And finally, the HUGE witch scene where the apparitions come to Macbeth from the cauldron just... wasn't there. There was no cauldron, no tangible witch and simply utter-chaos. I was expecting chaos and a new-age spin on witches, but would have preferred something along the lines of three specific "possessions" that could have more clearly relayed the important premonitions and messages from that culminating scene.

On the whole, I am sad to say I was not entirely thrilled with the SUNY New Paltz production of Macbeth, although I cannot say I wasn't entertained (perhaps just hard to please).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The SUNY New Paltz Production of The Tragedy of Macbeth

Through watching the SUNY New Paltz Production of The Tragedy of Macbeth, I realized that there are some challenges modern audience’s face when approaching Shakespeare. While we have spent an entire semester digging deep into the crux of his works, people with little to no experience with Shakespeare often cannot appreciate productions of Shakespeare’s works. During the play, the friend I brought had a lot of trouble following the plot and the students sitting behind us went on about how bored they were until they finally left at the intermission. This reaction to the play shows us that Shakespeare’s plays are quite different than Modern Drama. While these plays are often limited in characters and plot points (for example Topdog/Underdog, Dutchman, Endgame, No Exit, etc.), Shakespeare’s plays have an overabundance of characters and dramatic action. While this concentration, or density, of Shakespeare’s plays may be slightly overwhelming, it also creates a great amount of intensity. For this reason, I enjoyed the chaotic approach to staging this play as it helped to unravel so much dramatic action within a short amount of time. 

One of my favorite parts of the production was the scene with Banquo’s ghost at the dinner table. While some of my classmates argued that Banquo’s role was not very convincing, I found him to to be one of the best actors of the production. When he reappeared as a ghost I was very impressed with the careful staging of his character. There was something eerie about his blood red costume, and something haunting about his subtle movements. I also enjoyed to watch Macbeth’s highly dramatic and guilt ridden performance. I think the actor successfully portrayed Macbeth’s unstable state of mind in the mix of his all his guilt and worries.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Macbeth Performance

Saturday night I saw New Paltz's production of Macbeth. It was my first time seeing a production of one of Shakespeare's plays and I enjoyed it. I must admit that reading and studying the plays shortly before seeing it performed definitely helped to make it easier to follow and gave me more of an appreciation for it. I was thoroughly impressed with the acting as the characters were presented just as I had imagined them to be and they really brought the play to life.
I also thought that they did a good job of making it more contemporary while leaving most of the script unchanged. The use of sound effects was captivating and interesting, and it made it more exciting in a sense. It was a good addition to the play. I couldn't help but consider the fact that such sound effects would never be possible during Shakespeare's time, but they definitely added to the performance. I was also really impressed with Lady Macbeth's costumes. They were all quite beautiful and apparently quite a bit of work went into them. For example, I heard that the beads on her gold dress were all hand sewed onto it--pretty impressive.
Their use of the stage and set was also interesting. They really used the stage/set to its full potential and they hardly changed it over the course of the play! With the use of lighting, props, and staging of the actors, they made good use of the fairly unchanging set--just as they would have done in Shakespeare's time.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Macbeth Production

Today, Sunday I went to see the schools production of Macbeth. The first thing that stood out to me was their use of sound effects. I really felt engaged in the production and the locations portrayed because of the great sound effects. One of my favorite elements were the beautiful dresses Lady Macbeth was wearing, they dressed her character very well and whenever she entered a different scene, she had on another gorgeous dress!

My favorite scene was when Lady Macbeth and Macbeth were killing the king. They both were covered in 'blood' which I'm sure was red paint but it looked so realistic and the insanity radiating off of Macbeth was fabulous. Also, when the couple has everyone over for dinner and Macbeth begins having his allusions of the ghost was hard for me to understand at first but when I figured out the man covered in red was suppose to the ghost, it created a whole different scene. Macbeth was frightened by the ghost and the way the production dressed and covered the ghost in red made the scene truly scary and believable.

Lastly, the three witches in this production only had one female. I was surprised they used two males instead. The combination seemed to work well anyway but I was thrown off by that. This production created the witches with scary qualities which was not how I imagined in while reading the play in class. Overall, all themes were connected by the end and made a great show!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Macbeth Production

I went to see Macbeth last night in McKenna Theater, and overall I think it was a great show.  The set was amazing, especially the stairs.  It might be my fear of heights talking, but I must say when the characters were running up the stairs and when Lady Macbeth had her sleepwalking sequence walking up&down the stairs at the top, I was so afraid that the stairs would break or that the actors might fall.  The fact that they owned the stage without any fears was impressive to me.  Another thing that impressed me was the fact that the "dead" characters were carried off the stage, and weren't put down until they were completely out of sight.  I'm used to the lights dimming and everyone walks off stage.  This was an interesting detail because it felt more realistic.  The actors did an amazing job with every scene.

I do have a few criticisms, however.  I think the idea of "Macbeth in the Middle-East" was extremely interesting and when Professor Kassel was talking about it during our "Page to Stage" day, I really wanted to see how that was going to work.  I must say I was disappointed, though.  The costumes and the stage were great and set the scene, and there were guns instead of swords, but I think for the most part it was only the setting that felt Middle-Eastern to me.  It didn't really feel "war-like,"  except for the scene in the beginning in which the three innocent people were killed.  That was a scary scene, but I feel like they could have used the setting more and made it more true to reality because it was a brilliant idea. It felt like "Macbeth with a Middle-Eastern backdrop" more than "Present-day Macbeth." I was a little disappointed. 

Also they used the same noise they used for the possession scenes for when the scene was changing.  This threw me off a little because when I heard the noise (why does this sound like conditioning. haha) I thought "Oh no the witches are back"...but it was just the scene switching.

The ending was spectacular though.  I loved the bit where the witches were the only ones left on the stage and they were all possessed.  That was great.  I also liked the fact that Lady Macbeth had her hair down when she was going crazy, which we discussed was a symbol for madness.

The only other issue I had was that I only understood maybe 20% of what they were saying the entire play...that's my own inability to understand Shakespeare's English but it did hinder my enjoyment of the play quite a bit.

All things aside, I thought it was a pretty great show! They should all be very proud.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Macbeth Play / My last blog

                 The Macbeth performance was amazing! This production is directed by Paul Kassel. Before the show started I was thinking of the Macbeth play that I have seen my old High School preform and when they preformed at Shakespeare &Company in Lennox,MA. One of my friends played the role of Lady Macbeth. She used to joke with me that the way she prepared for when Lady Macbeth slips into madness, my friend said "You need to act the right amount of crazy for this role"
            The main role I wanted to focus on was Lady Macbeth, but first I want to comment on the way this production used the witches. The effect was for the audience to hear the witches voices ,but  when they possessed the people that were in the same area of Macbeth to show the connection they were getting through to Macbeth. Most times there would be actors for these roles. In this production gave me chilling feelings when the scenes with the witches and also in Act 4 scene 1, where they had multiple actors read the witches lines as they moved around Macbeth.

               The scene I was most interested in was the great and very powerful scene of when Lady Macbeth slips into madness. The actor that played Lady Macbeth is Robin Epes. Comparing her performance to my friends was difficult. Both performances were amazing and I got to see the different styles of how they act as that certain role. I must admit that these are very talented young actors and that they make the audience feel the passion/ intensity of the scene and can send chills down your spine.
        Although I never acted in the Shakespeare & Co performances, I still get the same feeling when I see the plays. This experience is amazing and I am so glad I got to attend tonight's performance!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Unusual Setting

While reading the first four acts of The Tempest, I couldn’t help but notice the peculiarity of the setting. To my knowledge (from the plays I have read), this is Shakespeare’s only play that takes place on a deserted island, away from organized society. This affects the world of the story greatly as it limits characters and characters’ connection to their familiar society. It also adds a necessary sense of vulnerability for many of the characters as they go from a strictly organizes society, to an unfamiliar island ruled by a power-hungry man who they thought was dead. This aspect makes colonialism an important part of the play and an important thing to consider.
I read part of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe for another class a little while back and I couldn’t help but think about it a little bit when reading The Tempest. Granted, the two are vastly different, but they have some notable similarities that suggest that Defoe was perhaps influenced by Shakespeare’s play when he wrote his novel. I don’t remember a lot of details from the chapters that I read, but I do remember colonialism playing a large role. Crusoe had a need to control all the he could on the island and europeanize his living space. Although the play does not go into detail about Prospero’s living space, it does mention that he has been able to salvage and maintain his books (or rather have them salvaged for him by his friend) and he clings onto and values them, perhaps because they partly connect him back to organized, european society. Crusoe took control over and educated the native, Friday. Prospero takes control over and teaches his language to his daughter, Miranda, and his slave, Caliban, the “monster” that presided on the island before Prospero arrived.
There are various elements of either work of literature that differ, however. Like Prospero having the ability to use magic, making his survival on the island easier, and his control over the natural world greater. This is only one of many differences that the works have, but I do feel that it is very likely that Shakespeare influenced Defoe despite their differences.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Comic relief

So here we are with our final play for the semester, and this is my final blog post. A bitter-sweet end that I know many of my peers can agree with. The tempest, oh what to say about The Tempest? I want to start by saying I am actually really enjoying this play so far. It is a nice relief from all the stresses of the end of the semester. It is a play that I would place in the category of a comedy because it is actually funny! I find myself laughing at parts that I really was not expecting to laugh at. One scene in particular is Act 3 scene 2 especially, when we see that Ariel is invisible and is tricking Caliban and Stephano into thinking that Trinculo is speaking rude things while Caliban is talking. I laughed because I was picturing in my head how this particular line would be played out on stage, the line is spoken by Stephano and it is this, “Trinculo, run inot no further danger. Interrupt the monster one word further, and, by this hand, I’ll turn my mercy out o’ doors and make a stockfish of thee” (63-65).

I could not help but think of the Christmas movie that has been on TV lately Home Alone. All I thought of while reading this scene was how funny it would have been to see poor Trinculo getting smacked around when he really was not the one saying anything. I almost picture his character as being the “follower” of the group and therefore the scapegoat of the bunch!

The other thing that I want to comment on is the “lovey, dovey” scene that Shakespeare included in this play between Miranda and Ferdinand. I am specifically talking about Act 3 scene 1. Miranda asks him, “Do you love me?” (68) and Ferdinand replies, “I beyond all limit of what else I’ th’ world do love, prize, honor you” (71-73). I find that something with this much “LOVE” would be in Shakespeare. We of course have seen characters express love in the work we have read for this class, but none that are quite as blunt as this play displays. I am actually a fan of writing like this, and I am interested to know if any of my peers have read other Shakespeare plays that display a similar love scene in which characters are truly expressing a love for one another like this? I am curious if there are no other plays like this, why that is, and why Shakespeare would even use that in this play if it was not characteristic of his work?

I am looking forward to more laughs for the end of the semester as we finish up this play!

Potter on a Deserted Island

                It is surprising that I found The Tempest so disturbing considering the saturated vampire werewolf and zombie world that we live in.  The supernatural doesn’t bother me. I loved Prospero’s Harry Potter wizard qualities so I had figure out what it was that creeped me out about this play.  The conclusion that I came to is that the way Prospero wields his control in the play creates an imbalance leaning more towards unjust than justice.

                While Prospero was unfairly driven from his kingdom because of his lackadaisical attention he overcompensate son the island. He becomes a control freak.  He is so addicted to the power of controlling others he has difficulty relinquishing power while he has Ariel and Caliban to do his bidding. It seems as if Ariel has paid Prospero back tenfold the way he flits about the island for him, yet Prospero dangles freedom in front of Ariel like a carrot.    In act 1 Ariel inquires about, “My liberty” (1.2.247) and Prospero goes on a tirade reminding him of all he has done for him.  Ariel immediately backs down and continues licking Prospero’s boots (if he was wearing any).  Even at the play’s end it is not clear if Prospero frees Ariel. He is a loyal servant but Prospero only has regard for his plans.

                Caliban is another one of Prospero’s creepy, supernatural servants. Caliban is not at all complimentary of Prospero as Ariel is. Caliban would be dangerous if he was set free which explains Prospero’s control over him. Although Caliban is such a vile thing he would be less offensive to Prospero and Miranda’s sensibilities if he was locked away out of sight but Prospero uses him for physical labor. Even though  Caliban..”didst seek to violate the honour of [his] child” (1.2.350-351) he keeps him around to fetch firewood. A better purpose for him and his long, pig-nut digging nails would be banished out to sea.

                Prospero also exhibits control over his sweet, innocent daughter.   He tests Miranda’s  control of her virtue. Even though he knows that she thinks Ferdinand, “carries a brave form” (1.2.415) and thinks he is “A thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw noble” (1.2.423-424) he still tests her ability to follow his orders and abstain while she is alone with him.  He does exercise his fatherly duties in testing Ferdinand’s intentions but then he still uses his daughter in his grand scheme to exact revenge.

                While Prospero was removed from his position because of his lack of control he goes overboard once he gains some control. He uses whoever he can to increase his power and move the players in his game as he sees fit.