Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review - Triumph of Love and Macbeth (Redd Tale Theatre Company)

By Byrne Harrison
Photographs by Ben Strothmann/

It's all about the witches.

"Well, sure," I can hear you say. "Of course Macbeth could be all about the witches, but there aren't any in Triumph of Love. It's a romantic comedy."

Au contraire, mon frère. This is not the Marivaux play you are familiar with. Or rather, it is, but it has been given the supernatural twist that is becoming Redd Tale Theatre Company's signature. While not everything that this spirited company tries out in this rep version of Macbeth and Triumph of Love works, their bold choices hit more often than they miss.

If you are planning to see both productions, and I would suggest you do since the design elements are tied together in such a way as to create two complementary shows, I would recommend seeing Triumph of Love first. It most clearly shows director Will LeVasseur's otherworldly concept, and makes it easier to follow some of those choices when they appear in Macbeth.

The original Marivaux play was a comedy following Leonide (Lynn Kenny), a princess and daughter of the recently deceased usurper of the throne. She finds out that the son of the real king still lives, the ward of the dour philosopher Hermocrate (Tom Cleary), who has taught him to hate all women, especially Leonide. Naturally, upon seeing the handsome young Agis (Brad Lewandowski), she falls in love, and sees a chance to make things right by marrying him and restoring him to the throne.

To accomplish this, she takes the rather roundabout way of dressing up as a young man and befriending Agis, in order to woo him later. Along the way, she seduces Hermocrate, who has figured out she is really a woman, and Hermocrate's sister, Leontine (Virginia Bartholomew), who hasn't. All in all, an improbable, but fun comedy where love triumphs over reason, and everyone is happy in the end... well, not Leontine and Hermocrate, who were completely bamboozled by Leonide, but they are meant to be ridiculed for having tried to turn their backs on love completely to begin with.

This, however, is now the play within the play that Le Vasseur has created. In his Triumph of Love, we find Leonide alone after a great plague. All of the people she knew, including her husband Agis, have died. In her desperation, she turns to a Witch (Rainbow Dickerson) to try to bring her husband back. She can only do this, says the Witch, by reliving the moment when she and Agis fell in love; then she will be judged to see if she is worthy to get him back. To make Leonide experience events again, the Witch brings the funerary statues of her former companions to life to act out the scenes. Leondie must participate, but cannot change events. Only at the end will it be decided if Agis can return to the land of the living.

While this does provide an interesting frame for the play, and plenty of supernatural bits for the company to play with, it puts a spectre of death over the whole play. Great stuff for Lynn Kenny, who gets to play a Leonide simultaneously in the first blush of love and carrying the knowledge of how that love will end, but it tends to undercut some of the broad comedy still residing in the play.

Kenny does a good job playing essentially three roles in one (a princess pretending to be a young woman pretending to be a young man), though I would have liked to have seen a little more masculinity in the young man. She is spot-on playing the young coquette when trying to seduce Hermocrate, and Tom Cleary is great as the sputtering philosopher forced to attend to his long suppressed libido. Though not onstage as much as the others, Virginia Bartholomew is outstanding as the spinster sister Leontine. Her comic timing and facial expressions - which quickly cycle between suspicion, hope, bemusement, longing and worry during her seduction by the disguised Leonide - remind me of a young Carol Burnett. I hope to see Bartholomew in some more comedies soon.

Brad Lewandowski is suitably handsome and naive as Leonide's quarry, Agis. His resistance to love and his overcoming of it are not quite as dramatic as those of Bartholomew's Leontine or Cleary's Hermocrate, both of whom are excellent at physicalizing their characters' confusion and reticence. Agis comes across more like an overeager puppy, happy to get a new treat. Some resistance to these unusual feelings, and if not caution, then a little fear at these overwhelming desires might have been a nice touch.

Rounding out the cast are the Witch, played with suitable otherworldliness by Rainbow Dickerson, and the three comic servants - wily Arelequin (Robert Dyckman), greedy Dimas (James Stewart), and earthy and sexy Corine (Cameran Hebb). The three comics provide plenty of humor, especially Dyckman with his nonstop energy, and Dickerson provides a truly transcendent ending to Le Vasseur's play.

Le Vasseur also gets set and costume credit for the show, and gives everything a classical feel. The set features three entrances - left, right and center - in the classic style, and a glowing Celtic triangle (which is clearly more appropriate for Macbeth, but still works nicely here). Since most of the actors are playing funerary statue versions of characters, everyone except Kenny and Dickerson are decked out in light grey togas. In fact, when these characters are not involved in a scene, these "statues" return to their plinths, and with a sigh, become statues again. It is a nice touch that is echoed by the three witches in Macbeth.

More like their statuary brethren than Dickerson's Witch, the three weird sisters of Macbeth (Jodi Mara, Merrie Jane Brackin and Mélissa Smith) are also clothed as statues, and return to a frozen state when not involved in a scene. This helps take care of the pesky stage directions which often require them to vanish into thin air - now they just become stone.

(Just to take a sci-fi geek break for a moment, if you've watched any of the recent Doctor Who series, imagine the witches as the Weeping Angels. It gives you a sense of what Le Vasseur has done.)

In addition to this neat trick, Le Vasseur's version of Macbeth gives the witches a lot more to do. They become central players - the killers of Banquo and Macduff's family, for instance - and ultimately are responsible, in a very hands on, for Macbeth's death.

I will admit to being something of a traditionalist. While I enjoy much of what Le Vasseur has done with the witches, I find their active participation in these scenes a bit difficult to swallow. It creates certain inconsistencies in the script - the scene where Macbeth suborns the murderers into killing Banquo, most notably - and makes me more aware of the script than of the performance.

Other than this and the oddly unnecessary choice of changing the sex of Duncan and Siward from male to female to suit the sex of the actor (Maria Silverman, who plays Duncan, Siward, Hecate and Lady Macduff has a strong presence and would have been more than up to the challenge of playing Duncan and Siward as male), Le Vasseur's lean version of Macbeth is well done. He has cut it to a quick 2 hours (purists will notice the bits and pieces that have been cut, others may not).

James Stewart's Macbeth is more thoughtful and less physical than is normally presented. This would be fine if there were more of a progression from balanced Thane of Glamis to wild and bloodthirsty King, but Stewart tends to keep his Macbeth more stoic - more brain, less brawn. That said, Stewart excels at the fight scenes, well choreographed by Mike Yahn, especially the final fight scene with Sam Laakso's Macduff. Virginia Bartholomew more than makes up for this low-key husband with her powerful Lady Macbeth. Her scenes are electric and she is a delight to watch.

The rest of the cast acquits themselves well, with strong performances by Maria Silverman, Morgan Auld, whose Porter gets to interact with the witches in an interesting staging choice by Le Vasseur, and Collin McConnell as the doomed Banquo.

While not at all an obvious choice to put in rep together, Le Vasseur and the Redd Tale Theatre Company take some exciting risks with Macbeth and Triumph of Love. This continues to be a company to watch, especially as they refine their creative vision and build their unique voice.

Triumph of Love
Adapted and Directed from Pierre de Marivaux by Will Le Vasseur
New Translation by Virginie Maries
Movement Choreography: James Dorfer
Set, Costume and Website Design: Will Le Vasseur
Stage Manager: Brittany Ray
Poster Design: Graeme Offord
Original Music: Robert Roxby
Production Photos: Ben Strothmann

Featuring: Virginia Bartholomew (Leontine), Tom Cleary (Hermocrate), Rainbow Dickerson (Witch), Robert Dyckman (Arlequin), Cameran Hebb (Corine), Lynn Kenny (Leonide), Brad Lewandowski (Agis), James Stewart (Dimas)

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Will Le Vasseur
Fight Choreography: Mike Yahn
Fight Choreography Assistant: Alec Barbour
Movement Choreography: Rebecca Smith-Millstein
Set, Costume and Website Design: Will Le Vasseur
Stage Manager: Brittany Ray
Poster Design: Graeme Offord
Original Music: Robert Roxby
Production Photos: Ben Strothmann

Featuring: Morgan Auld (Ross/Porter), Virginia Bartholomew (Lady Macbeth), Elyse Beyer (Sergeant/Seyton), Merrie Jane Brackin (Witch 2), Michael Komala (Donalbain/Fleance/Macduff's Son/Young Siward), Sam Laakso (Macduff), Brad Lewandowski (Malcolm), Jodi Mara (Witch 1), Collin McConnell (Banquo/Menteith), Jack Nicolaus (Lennox), Maria Silverman (Duncan/Hecate/Lady Macduff/Siward), Mélissa Smith (Witch 3), James Stewart (Macbeth)

Spoon Theatre
38 W. 38th Street, 5th Floor

August 5th - 28th
Visit Redd Tale's site for further information.

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