New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

Shakespeare on the Sound, Rowayton

In many ways, Shakespeare on the Sound and its productions are smashing successes. The outdoor setting, on the banks of a lovely river, is superb. The whole-hearted, far-reaching community support is another plus factor—as is audience support. This time around, more than ever, viewers have been packing the grounds, with every available space taken.

Would that we could give the show itself an equally strong review! But this present production of “the Scottish play” is a mixed blessing.

For starters, consider the stage set by designer Pavel Dobrusky. This simple backboard structure with its flight of stairs and overhead walk, painted a mustardy yellow, is disappointing at first glance. And in fact the opening scenes gain little help from this design. But as the day darkens into night, Dobrusky’s set comes into its own, working in sync with his lighting design. Drama and menace are heightened as the wall indeed becomes a castle wall, with the shadowy figures etched against its backdrop.

At the same time, early scenes feel static, as players stand rooted to the floor, while one or two recite their lines. It is only later that scenes come vibrantly to life, with characters racing up the stairs or standing silhouetted on the overhead walk. It is darkest night, close to the play’s end, when the most visually exciting scene of this “Macbeth” unfolds. It is Macbeth’s final encounter with the witches—complete with boiling cauldron, flickering flames, threatening hags, deep shadows and terrifying visions.

Players, too, are a mixed blessing, with many performances more declamatory than believable. Yet there are several stand-outs, topped by Claire Beckman as Lady Macbeth. Every line, every word from her mouth, gives power, passion and poignancy to this tale of ambition gone wrong. Of course the witches (Kenneth Boys, Darrie Lawrence and Katie Sparer) are as scary (in Carol Pelletier’s costumes) as could be wished, and Boys, as the Porter, does a wonderfully comic turn.

As for Sean Cullen’s portrayal of Macbeth, one looks in vain for a characterization which probes into the depths. Cullen’s style of boyish enthusiasm works well enough in early scenes, with some justification for such an approach. “He is too full of the milk of human kindness,” as his wife laments. But this Macbeth’s evolution from boy warrior to ruthless tyrant is mostly surface and declamation.

This “Macbeth” seems to run on forever, but that feeling may result, not from the play itself, nor its pacing, but the fact that too many recitations have taken the place of character exploration.

In all, this evening in Pinkney Park, on the river bank, is a mixed blessing.

-- Irene Backalenick
June 17, 2006

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