The Public Theater continues its long-standing commitment to present Shakespeare to as wide an audience as possible with its Mobile Shakespeare Unit. This company performs in prisons, shelters, and other venues in underserved communities. Now they’ve brought Macbeth back to the Public for a stripped down production involving costume changes visible in the sidelines, a barren set framed by the audience on all four sides, and house lights on the whole time. While accessible, it’s a bit distracting when you can see a fellow audience member across the intimate stage. In fact, you can see everyone—all their yawns, fidgets, wandering eyes, and rapt faces.
Despite all this, as well as the post-apocalyptic punk costume design by Amanda Seymour and the mobile set by Wilson Chin that has the actors moving three large trunks around to frame the space, this Macbeth is fairly traditional. Fairly straightforward without any real diversions, the play is unsurprising and even. Directed by Edward Torres and including a cast of eight performing almost 30 roles, the acting is what really stands out. Macbeth, played to creepy perfection by Rob Campbell, is a misguided man whose judgment is clouded by love and ambition. Lady Macbeth (a powerful Jennifer Ikeda) exudes real malice, pushing her pawn forward as she climbs to the top. Daniel Pearce, who plays both the doomed Duncan and the vengeful Macduff, is one of the most charismatic actors of the cast and the most poetically cast. The contrast of him playing the victim of Macbeth in the first act only to be revived in the second to enact his revenge is inspired.
The scenes with the Weird Sisters, or the three witches, played by Ikeda, Nicole Lewis and Teresa Avia Lim, are the most engaging and entertaining part of the play. Telling Macbeth his future, while also dooming him to his fate, they writhe and shriek to chilling effect. Macbeth, for his part, belongs with them; his wry, crooked smile belying his evil plot cooking in the witch’s cauldron. Keith Eric Chappelle plays a deadpan Banquo; there’s not much emotion when he meets his fate. James Udom and Nick Mills play fine supporting characters, one being a drunken fool portrayed flamboyantly by Mills to comedic effect.
It seems at times as though the cast is trying to make up for its small size by amping up the volume to an unnecessary degree. It’s a fairly intimate space but the actors often use screams and banging drums to enforce a dramatic moment. This is needless. The loudness of these instances overshadows much of the dialogue and takes away from any mounting tension. Yes, this is a well-known play. Yes, we all know how it’s going to end. But is there any harm in throwing some ambiguity into the mix? There’s not much nuance in this Macbeth.
Ultimately, if you want a finely staged and performed Macbeth, by all means go to The Public Theater. At $20 a pop, tickets are not expensive. It’s accessible, which is what The Mobile Unit is all about. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking.