Review by Amy M. Frateo
James Jennings and his brainchild, the American Theatre of Actors have long been contributors to presenting the classics – especially the Bard – in NYC. His latest offering is a powerful – almost animistic – production of Macbeth.
The women in flowing robes, the men barely swathed at all, Jennings and Jane Culley, his co-director, present to us a raw depiction of the warlords of the time period when the actual “Macbeth” may have reigned. High-energy and youthful unbridled passion, plus and unique staging for classic passages gave this production ironic innovation – ironic in that going back to its basics made it seem new.
Thomas Leverton gives us a Macbeth that is both savage warrior and scared child. Bounding across the stage stopping himself in his own tracks at grim realizations, Leverton never let his character get bogged down or declamatory but infused each passage with his engrossing electricity. Jessica Jennings’ mesmerizing Lady M gives us the same dichotomy with her “fairest in the land” looks hiding a vicious soul. Her affected vocal pattern added an eerie tone implying that there are more witches on the stage than we know. She seemed to channel Tamora from Titus Andronicus in some ways. This was exemplified by her famed letter soliloquy ending in a blood ritual. Both leads’ command of the language was admirable and their high-energy pace made a great connection between classic language and raw emotion. Speaking of the witches, it was risky having them so stereotypical but there, again, the manic pace made us follow right along. An effect of having them present at all ghostly moments was effective and should have been taken further.
A standout among the ensemble of savages was Andrew Goebel (as Ross). His superior elocution and strong presence provided excellent commentary and anchored the production well.
Jennings & Culley’s staging was panoramic – using every inch of a very vast stage including precarious scaffolding and aisles whose wood flooring made the marching of the soldiers that much more heart-quickening.
Costumes – at times – seemed a little unclear, but the general appearance was effective. The absence of music – clearly a choice – added to the realism but some moments of sound would have been effective.
The American Theatre of Actors turns 40 this year – and a hearty congratulations. With cost and competition in NYC as savage as Scotland during King Duncan’s reign, most theatres turn tail and run. Not James Jennings. He continues to provide a fortress for the theatrical warriors arriving in NYC every day. Hats off to him and his team. How does he do it? Maybe he has the Weird Sisters on his board of directors.