“Were I from Dunsinane away and clear,
Profit again should hardly draw me here.”
– “Macbeth,” Act 5, Scene 3
No promise of profit could lure me back to Ten Bucks Theatre Company’s production of “Macbeth.” It is the worst offering of Shakespeare under the Stars since the dazzling disaster “Dracula” three years ago.
After last summer’s delightfully enchanting “Merry Wives of Windsor,” this static and tiresome production of one of the Bard’s great tragedies is deeply disappointing. The responsibility for this debacle rests squarely with director Ben Layman, who also directed “Dracula.”
An experienced director who regularly works with Penobscot Theatre Company’s Dramatic Academy, Layman appears to have done nothing to school this cast on how to turn Shakespeare’s rhyming dialogue into conversation. Nearly the entire cast walks, stops and recites the lines as if standing in front of a freshman high school English class.
With no furniture on the bare stage and few props other than swords and knives, the actors are left with nothing but the Bard’s language, and on Saturday night at Indian Trail Park in Brewer nearly every member of the cast still seemed uncomfortable with it. The cast of “Merry Wives,” directed by Julie Arnold Lisnet, proved that amateur actors can turn Elizabethan language into conversation for a 21st century audience, and move and talk at the same time.
Barrett Hammond looks every bit a warrior — or linebacker — as Macbeth. He moves confidently enough on stage but rarely seems to make eye contact or talk with other actors, except for his real-life wife Deb Elz Hammond as Lady Macbeth.
Why his Macbeth is so full of ambition and doubt, the actor never conveys to the audience. In a few scenes, including the one in the banquet hall where he sees an apparition, Hammond gives the audience a glimpse of the haunted Macbeth. That man is fascinating and the actor needs to show the audience more of him.
Elz Hammond’s “out-damn-spot” soliloquy is brilliant and emotionally devastating. Lady Macbeth’s madness is painful to watch, but the actress and her husband bring very little passion to the relationship, which seems odd. Even if they aren’t lusting after each other, Macbeth and his lady have the same thirst for power, but that seems lukewarm at best in this production.
The three witches that set Macbeth on his fateful bloody path make their predictions standing on rather than moving about the stage. Portrayed by Lisnet, Alison Cox and Andrea Littlefield, the trio only is animated in their final scene. That appearance is enhanced by their artful and colorful headdresses, but they are so benign in early scenes, the audience is left to wonder why Macbeth would be afraid of them or believe their predictions.
A few actors have defied Layman’s stand-and-recite direction to the production’s benefit. Liz Mills, a newcomer to the area, is powerful and dynamic as Banquo. She is one of the few cast members who delivers Shakespeare’s lines with understanding and finesse. Mills also is the only appearition who truly is frightening, not because of the blue makeup and stage blood, but because she is in character.
Nathan Roach and Aimee Gerow give layered performances as Macduff and Lady Macduff. Roach and Gerow, who with Hammond Elz gave a captivating performance in “Merry Wives,” have conversations with each other and other characters. Gerow makes Lady Macduff’s anger palpable. Roach’s anguish over his family’s loss can be felt by every theatergoer and gives depth to Macduff’s final showdown with Macbeth.
The other standout performer is Bunny Barclay as Ross. Ten Bucks often casts women in men’s roles with mixed success. Barclay is totally believable as a man. Her Ross is a survivor and a diplomat. She is one of the few cast members who consistently walks and talks at the same time.
Elliott Wilcox’s set is a gray platform with three gray standing sections behind it. Limbs and leaves are barely visible on the upright pieces. A wood-fueled fire burns at the edge of the stage throughout the show. The set adds to the unnatural atmosphere many of the characters find themselves in.
Unfortunately, Layman does not use it well by having his actors move or by keeping it bare without benches, chairs or tables. The costumes, designed by Layman and Deborah Waterman are a hodgepodge of outfits without a consistent vision. A few, such as Banquo’s, Macbeth’s and the witches’ headdresses are excellent, others are simply unimaginative.
Ten Bucks has been presenting Shakespeare Under the Stars nearly every summer since 2004. The company itself has been producing a variety of plays since 2000. Despite its status as community group, past successes prove it’s capable of far, far better theater than this “Macbeth.” Its loyal audience deserves a show as well-performed as “Merry Wives” every summer.
Ten Bucks Theatre Company’s production of “Macbeth” will be performed at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Newport Riverwalk; at 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday behind the Orono Public Library; and at 6 p.m. Aug. 2 to 5 at Fort Knox in Bucksport. For information, call 207-884-1030 or visit tenbuckstheatre.org.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.