The Gamm’s Macbeth: Get a Little Will in Your Life



Expectations are high for The Gamm Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Shakespeare has been enjoying a banner year on New York stages recently, but the truth is that there’s always something running somewhere, particularly in academic circles, for those who need a little Will in their lives. Rhode Island, always mirroring both the variety and the quantity of plays offered in Manhattan, is rarely without a Tempest here or an Othello there, and even some of the most amateur productions manage to not only entertain, but pull new meanings out of timeworn scripts. Bob Colonna’s productions for TRIST are fun and funny, with diverse casts and unique outdoor settings. JC Wallace’s RISC delivers earnest and well-produced offerings as well as Mixed Magic, CTC and the list goes on. As a result of so many fine amateur productions available at no or low cost, when a professional company such as a Trinity Rep launches Shakespeare with the fanfare and the considerable resources it has at its disposal, we expect the quality commensurate with such talent. Scenic and costume design, lighting and sound and, most importantly, the actors and director are all hoped, if not expected, to be of the highest caliber possible for an audience paying top dollar.

This expectation of plenty holds true especially for the tragedies and histories, for while we can accept a Much Ado or a Midsummer Night’s Dream that falls a little flat, the scripted moments of levity in a Julius Caesar or Henry V are far too few to carry a production that isn’t firing on at least most cylinders. Those who see Shakespeare simply to revel in the language may excuse much in the way of weak performances or dodgy production values, but that does not account for the majority of the much coveted General Audience who is not composed of friends, family members and season subscribers who are locked in regardless.

All of which is to say that when The Gamm, who has produced some of the finest professional theater in the state for several years running, announced Macbeth as part of the current season, the expectations were high. Their fairly recent production of Hamlet, while not perfect, was certainly extraordinary enough to warrant viewing and Macbeth, while difficult, can be far more straightforward in its gory appeal. House of Cards has made the storyline and the relationships even more subconsciously available to the public and the usual Gamm stalwarts were cast alongside some newer talent. With Fred Sullivan Jr. at the helm, all of the ingredients seemed to be in place for a potentially definitive production of the cursed Scottish play, a production to put to rest all other recent attempts.

Macbeth went into previews on March 6th and opened officially for the press on Monday the 10th. Motif was allowed to see the show one night early, and it must be stated that a lot may happen in 24 hours as anyone who has ever been involved in mounting a production knows all too well. However, as fascinating and as powerful as The Gamm’s Macbeth may be, our experience was simply that the whole did not equal the sum of its considerable parts.

For the most part, the production values are excellent, as usual. Patrick Lynch’s set is a gloomy masterpiece, with rust-stained corrugated metal walls oozing toward a bare plank floor spattered with what appears to be the red mist of repeated brutal deaths. The spattering and the rust add texture, but also a sense of decaying menace. Smoke periodically drifts upward through the floor, usually in anticipation of another visit by the three Weird Sisters whose machinations set in motion all of Macbeth’s plotting and plunder. Marilyn Salvatore’s costumes are glorious, all drab greens and browns save for Lady Macbeth’s pulsating reds. The World War One setting and embracement of period Scottish attire is both obvious and brilliant. There is also the use of Michael Commendatore’s notorious projections, used to great effect recently with Wilbury Group. Here, we start to see some of the unfortunate dichotomy of excellent talent missing just as often as they hit. We hope to see a bloody Banquo projected on the wall at some point. We do, and it’s marvelously done and appropriately creepy. However, the literal dagger floating in the air like an expectant mouse pointer on a computer screen cheapens the device and does nothing to help us follow Tony Estrella into his head as he is supposed to be agonizing and procrastinating while going quite mad. Sound effects are not up to the usual quality (no sound designer is listed in the program) and while we are watching a superb Jeanine Kane take us on Lady Macbeth’s torturous and malevolent journey, the overly loud squawks of crows and owls elicited a few nervous titters from the audience.

And this is the curse that plagues this production. There are so many good things here that are upstaged by those that are not. For example, Fred Sullivan, Jr. has the novel idea of using the same actors as the witches to play the servants and similar secondary roles, thereby creating an undercurrent of subversive evil in the house of Macbeth. However, aside from the always excellent Wendy Overly, the parts played by Rachel Dulude and Alec Thibodeau are forgetful or just plain. Thibodeau misses two opportunities to shine as the Bloody Sergeant and the Porter by throwing away the first and overplaying the second. The best moment for the servants, where Dulude and Thibodeau (with Overly beside them) finally come to life isn’t actually part of the script and it isn’t until the final witches scene, where each witch in turn ejaculates a possessed trio of  prophecies concerning Macbeth’s ultimate fate, that we see the three used to full effect.

And Estrella, one of the finest actors we have in the state, is often not up the challenge. His worst efforts would still be acceptable, but we have very little sense of the arc that Macbeth takes. Macbeth here is often petulant instead of conflicted, with little engagement. What might be taken for increasing isolation and paranoia comes across as a lack of connection, leaving Kane and Estrella acting at the same time, but rarely together (a shame as Kane is stirring in a performance that builds steadily until a final, moaning and demonic radiance that brings to mind Piper Laurie in Carrie). Banquo (Michael Forden Walker) is virtually ignored by Macbeth, but Walker doesn’t try that hard to be noticed, either. Steve Kidd and Richard Donelly are both working up to par (particularly an understated, but wonderfully wry Kidd as Macduff), but the climactic fight scene between Kidd and Estrella came across as a work-in-progress and then petered out into the wings in an anticlimax that was only barely overcome by one of Jordan Ahnquist’s amped up, impassioned Malcolm speeches. The fact that Norm Beauregard, one of the most celebrated fight choreographers in the area, staged the fight is hard to reconcile. Like many moments in the show, this fight was rote and academic, lacking any real passion or finesse. There is no catharsis here, just an ending with a cute winking nod by the witches as they make a final cameo.

It would serve no purpose to continue listing reasons or justifying why this Macbeth (at least on this particular evening) is a series of missed opportunities with glimpses of brilliance peeking through like the light through the floorboards. Many have enjoyed and will enjoy the production without noticing or caring about any of it. However, for those who hold Estrella and The Gamm in high regard, the sound and the fury may signify nothing, indeed.

The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre presents Shakespeare’s Macbeth March 6th – Apr 13th. 172 Exchange St, Pawtucket, RI 02860. Performance times vary by date, so visit or call 401.723.4266 for tickets and information.

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