The more productions I see of Macbeth, the more I admire it. The audacity. The layers. The incision. The timelessness. What Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth do for the sake of ambition seems inexplicable. For his service to crown and country he has been amply rewarded. Even without the augury of the three witches, his path to glory seems more than fairly assured. Why resort to treachery when all he needs is a bit of patience and kindness? And yet, despite all appeals to rational logic, his actions seem utterly human and nearly….pitiable. Like so many who came before him and those to follow , when he makes the mistake of equating success with security, he can think of little else.
An issue that Macbeth raises repeatedly throughout the text is the (supposed) connection between gender and aggression and/or conquest. When Lady Macbeth appeals to darker forces to strengthen her resolve to murder Duncan she admonishes them to “unsex me now….” She also bemoans that her husband might be handicapped by “the milk of human kindness…” Shakespeare plays with these contrasting metaphors for nurturing and warrior mode, suggesting over and over that it is unseemly for men to express charity or grief or sympathy. He invokes gender-blurring observations, such as when Banquo says to the weird sisters : …“you should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.” One of the notable flaws in Macbeth’s behavior, though, is that his first two murders are accomplished by stealth rather than bravery. For all the drama’s heated debate about appropriately virile behavior, his savagery is strangely passive.
So when I went to see Kitchen Dog Theater’s production of Macbeth, it felt consistent with the subtext that all the actors, men and women, were dressed in military gear, with dark green trousers and red berets, and that the men and women took turns playing the Weird Sisters, covering their faces with scarves. One of the key male characters is played by actress Rhonda Boutte’. Obviously, director Matthew Gray is challenging our assumptions about gender and propriety in the same way Shakespeare does when Lady Macbeth exhibits more ferocity than her husband. It’s an interesting approach to the material, though I’m not sure it always works.
And certainly there are other things going on in this urgent (if at times, a bit too frantic) interpretation of Macbeth. Does reminding us that Macbeth subsists in a pervasively violent culture make his choices easier to condone? Does it create more or less tension? I have always admired Kitchen Dog’s dedication to making their shows, immediate, relevant, intriguing and accessible. I’m afraid in this particular piece they may be working at cross purposes. Yes, the actors sound like actual human beings, they’re comfortable with the language, but too often the dialogue seemed rushed or incoherent. The soliloquies were paced just right, though, and well realized. Christopher Carlos (Macbeth) and Christina Vela (Lady Macbeth) were inspired in their roles, as well as the rest of the cast, who must have had their hands full, playing double and triple characters.
Kitchen Dog Theater presents Shakespeare’s Macbeth, playing February 4th -March 5th, 2011 at The McKinney Avenue Contemporary. 3120 McKinney Avenue at Bowen, Dallas, Texas 75204. 214-953-1055. kitchendogtheater.org