George W. Bush once said his job as president would be much easier if we lived in a dictatorship. A lot of liberals are still horrified by this joke, partly because it's not hard to imagine George as a tyrannical dictator.
Still, it's easy to understand the desire to be king. You get to live in a castle. You get to wear a jewel-encrusted hat. If anyone disagrees with you, you get to cut off their thumbs.
Of course, taking the steps to actually become a dictator is another matter entirely. Most people just don't have the stomach for it.
Shakespeare understood the dangers of unrestrained political ambition better than anyone, and he funneled that understanding into Macbeth, his perfect play about a man and his wife's limitless ambition for power. A new production at the Vortex Theatre is uneven. Luckily, the show is saved by excellent performances in the two principle roles.
When the play opens, Macbeth (Samuel Taylor), a Scottish war hero, has just saved King Duncan (George Bach) from death at the hands of invading armies from Ireland and Norway. On his return from the battlefield, Macbeth meets a trio of witches who predict, among other mysterious prophecies, that he'll be made an aristocrat and ultimately a king. When he meets up with Duncan, the king rewards him for his bravery by granting him an aristocratic title.
Amazed the witches were correct, when he returns home, Macbeth tells his wife (Kate Schroeder) about the prophecy. Lady Macbeth soon convinces her reluctant husband he should murder the king. Together they plot the crime and manage to pin the assassination on two of the king's servants.
After Duncan's sons flee the country, Macbeth succeeds in becoming king. Unfortunately, he has to keep killing people to retain his grip on power. The guilt and stress begins to bear down on both Macbeth and his wife. They start ranting and hallucinating, and Macbeth is spurred to greater violence. By the end, we have a genuine bloodbath on our hands.
Some aspects of this production disappointed me. The director, Tricklock's Chad Brummett, played the starring role in a Vortex staging of Hamlet last year. There's an eerie sameness to the appearance of these two productions. Macbeth sports almost the same grayish, tiered castle-esque set as did Hamlet. Likewise, the costumes, if I recall, are also quite similar, both featuring lots of black. In both cases, the productions would have been better served if designers had come up with something a little more inventive.
Another point of similarity is that both shows suffered from weaker secondary characters. That said, the strength of Hamlet was mostly in Brummett's extravagant, assured performance in the lead. Likewise, Taylor in the title role rules the stage here. His portrayal is nuanced and utterly believable. You can almost see the mind of the criminal working—the questioning, the guilt, the twisting. You get the sense that after he kills the king, Taylor's Macbeth already knows he can only move forward to his inevitable doom along a path strewn with victims. Taylor lets you have sympathy for his predicament without stripping the sheer horror from his bloody deeds.
Likewise, Schroeder makes an excellent Lady Macbeth, using sex as a weapon to manipulate her weak husband into committing his dastardly crimes. This talented actor, who like Brummett is also a Tricklock fixture, has the ideal Lady Macbeth voice. Gravelly and chain-smoky, you never question her ability to kill people for personal gain.
The promotional material promised this wouldn't be Shakespeare as usual, but all in all there wasn't much out of the ordinary here. It's a fairly solid, traditional production fueled primarily by the two main characters. That said, the production's strengths are enough to make it worth a visit.