"The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements," Lady Macbeth exclaims, gesturing triumphantly at the sky. A particularly loud helicopter has just flown by overhead, causing Lady Macbeth (Jenny Strassburg) to pause in her bloodthirsty speech and fix the helicopter with a vengeful look before deciding to continue, but now the copter has, thankfully, passed out of hearing range.
No, it's not Macbeth meets Miss Saigon. It's New York Classical Theatre's free production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, performed in various locations around Battery Park. There just seem to be a lot of helicopters out this evening.
Performing Shakespeare in this venue comes with specific challenges: like the moment during Macbeth's Act 5 soliloquy when someone on the other side of the park decides to start up an impromptu dance party with blaring R&B music.
But if it brings challenges, outdoor Shakespeare also brings significant rewards: like the menacing shadows cast by the actors on the trees behind them during the final battle scene, or the fortuitously-timed screech of an airplane drawing near as Macbeth (Will Dixon) exclaims, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" and the three Weird Sisters reach their hands out towards the audience.
Under the direction of Stephen Burdman, this production of Macbeth integrates with the landscape of Battery Park, taking full advantage of the park's many unique features - Castle Clinton, the East Coast Memorial with its giant inscribed slabs, and a circle of paving stone that's a perfect setting for the Witches' cauldron scene.
There's also something to be said for theatre in which the audience doesn't just sit and watch the stage for several hours, but instead gets up and follows the actors to the next scene, parts way for them to enter, and turns around when actors appear behind them. The play becomes a more active, participatory event.
The Witches (Olivia Russell, Claire Fort, and Jamila Sabares-Klemm) are delightfully imagined and acted in this production, and the choice to have them perform various other roles in the play (usually played by separate actors) integrates them subtly into the whole of the story. Dressed in a brown assemblage of leather, fur, and cloak, they seem to have stepped directly out of the ancient Celtic landscape.
After the Witches, M. Scott McLean's Macduff, with a booming voice and impassioned acting, may be the most arresting figure in this production of Macbeth. But the rest of the ensemble turn out compelling performances as well: Jenny Strassburg is chilling as post-insanity Lady Macbeth, and Ian Antal's Malcolm is commanding. Will Dixon is appropriately tyrannous as power-hungry Macbeth, and Clay Storseth is tragically friendly as Banquo.
As the shadows lengthen over Battery Park, darkness descends upon Macbeth's life. The helicopters have fallen silent, and it would be difficult to find a more perfect stand-in for Birnam Wood than the tall trees forming a natural backdrop to the battle scene. So I guess Macbeth in Battery Park works pretty well after all.