Review: Savage Players’ MACBETH – Intense But Not Intimate

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Colin Simon (Macbeth) and Adrienne Hertler (Lady Macbeth. Photo credit: Jenn Spain

When I read this paragraph from Savage Players’ press materials for Macbeth, it had the desired effect. It made me want to see the production.

“While textually faithful to Shakespeare, Savage Players plans a ‘poetic, austere staging’ that encompasses the audience and blurs the traditional lines of stage and audience. The production aims to create an intimate, intense experience for the audience in which we are no longer able to separate ourselves from the world of Macbeth.”

That sounded like a pretty intriguing vision to me and I was looking forward to experiencing this intense Macbeth of blurred lines. After seeing so many versions of the play, one welcomes an approach that promises to bring something new to the table. But instead of finding an intimate world that surrounds the audience, I found myself sitting in a large finished warehouse space with so much staging area between players and public that intimacy was never part of the equation. 

The room is configured so that the audience borders two long sides of the rectangular space with all of the action happening in the middle or up the stairs on the second floor overlooking it. The two exceptions are Macbeth’s banquet, which awkwardly takes place offstage while Macbeth and Lady M hold their conversation just inside the open doorway, and Macbeth’s nightmare. During this scene, Macbeth plays in the center of the room but ghostly figures of those he’s murdered appear as apparitions from outside windows along one wall. Reflected back from the floor-to-ceiling mirror directly across from them, and previously covered but for this scene, it is chillingly effective.

Otherwise key speeches are often delivered by actors with their backs to the audience gazing down to the end of the room or mumbling into each other’s shoulder. That might be effective occasionally, as long as the words can be understood, but the cast delivers Shakespeare’s poetic iambic pentameter almost entirely as prose in a contemporary style that only works if you have a film camera over your shoulder to catch your hushed voices. The imagery in the text goes unheard and it is likely that those unfamiliar with the story will be able to follow only the more obvious plot turns.

Still, director Alex Levy and ensemble do build the overall intensity of the action and Macbeth’s violent death is an explosive denouement in this story of corruption and evil.

Time period isn’t designated but the modern political framework of war is established by Julia Keefe’s crisp, albeit long, sound passages in the play’s early scenes. Witches in the form of press staff trucked in on metal platforms haphazardly respond to Macbeth’s return from the trenches while typing at their assigned stations. Whether they are unimpressed because they know that ultimately they have the power to make or break a king, or their indifference is simply a comment on the recycling of authority, it’s all a bit murky.

At times Pablo Santiago’s lighting design is also problematic. Lighting instruments are placed at the four corners of the stage area on the floor pointed directly into the audience’s faces such that I had to shield my eyes whenever one particular light came on. To his credit, it did spill some interesting shadows on the far wall that could have been explored further. If the payoff had been bigger it might have been easier to excuse the periodic annoyance.

Though the execution did not deliver on the description above, it should still appeal to those who want their Shakespeare served with a more modern flair… and a matinee idol Macbeth like Colin Simon doesn’t hurt either.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

Savage Players
Through November 17, 2013
Live Arts Los Angeles
4210 Panamint Street
Los Angeles, CA 90065
Reservations: (310) 853-0712 or


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