REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams



polarity ensemble

Produced by Polarity Ensemble

At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago

Not stage worthy production of “The Scottish Play’ forced me out

For only the second time in over 3,400 visits to the theatre as a reviewer, I left a show at the intermission. I am not proud of  that but one can only take so much butchery of a classic work! I warned my young intern that a non-Equity and non-classically trained cast can either produce a refreshing take on The Bard’s Macbeth or it will butcher the work. Unfortunately, the latter prevailed.

The main problems in Richard Engling’s production of Macbeth cover most of his  production decisions. The blocking and the too loud percussion featuring a bongo drum rendered much of the early dialogue from the witches inaudible. Next, the generalized blocking placed many players too far away from the audience making them difficult to hear.

polarity ensemble

Add a cast of players with little or no concept of what they were saying – a common problem with poorly trained Shakespearean actors. Some mumbled; some raced through their speeches with little emphasis; some did both of those in so low a volume as to be not heard. Jovan King’s take on Macbeth moved from gross over acting to maniacal rage while Lana Smithner, as Lady Macbeth, mumbled or raced through her lines leaving me scratching my head as to how her and him actually got cast?

If you think I’m being too harsh, well I’m not.  I refer to the 2010 City Lit Theatre non-Equity production of Macbeth directed by Susan Hart:

“You’d be hard pressed to witness better storefront Shakespeare (that City Lit’s). Kudos to director Susan Hart with directorial assistance from Jeffrey Carlson for aiding and teaching an amazing cast about the nuances and methods required to play Shakespeare effectively. Hart demonstrates that she is also a fine director besides her being one of the premiere classical acting teacher/coach. Her cast has learned much from her. This is terrific ensemble work that respects The Bard’s tragedy.”

polarity ensemble

That may be the main problem with Engling’s production of Macbeth: he didn’t use Susan Hart and Jeffrey Carlson’s students. When you can’t  understand what is being said or you can’t follow the action- a show fails. Period. Polarity Ensemble’s production was so inarticulate, stiff and boring that I was forced to leave at intermission. When my intern stated that he had no clue as to what was going on or why things happened, that was enough for me. Sometimes you just have to leave or start screaming and screaming isn’t my style.

I once said that non-Equity storefront Shakespeare should have a warning sign stating “enter at your own rick, butchery may take place.” That sure was the case with this production. What makes me sadder is that folks who see this production will think that all Shakespeare is performed and stage like that. It is not. Thankfully Chicago Shakespeare, Writers Theatre, Court Theatre,  the Goodman Theatre  and a selected group of non-Equity troupes do justice to The Bard’s work. That is not the case here.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date reviewed: February 2, 2014

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4 thoughts on “Macbeth

  • Much like your viewing of Macbeth I stopped half way through your review. There were some wonderful performances in the second act had you bothered to stay. Next time you decide to scorn a whole production perhaps you should sit through the whole production.

  • I had no hope that in the second act the players would suddenly speak to I could understand them. i stand by my review

  • There were a lot of problems with the production – and the first half was weak. But MacDuff in the 2nd act brought a lot of life. He and Lady MacDuff were bright spots. And while I get the reviewer’s frustration with the speech (as I could not understand MacBeth or Lady MacBeth), the witches held a fascination with me where I wanted to see more. Is this production good? No. But walking out? Not worthy of that either.

  • Since I could not understand or hear most of the characters including the three witches, Why would i stay?

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