Review: ‘Macbeth’ an intense spectacle

This review of “Macbeth,” which opened Thursday night at KU’s University Theatre, comes from Sarah Young, a Lawrence-based freelance writer:

Something definitively wicked came to the stage of the Crafton-Preyer Theatre on Thursday night as University Theatre opened its production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

As the doomed Scot, Alex Salamat revels in Macbeth’s mercurial, ambitious, conflicted and malevolent personality. By turns pathetic and arrogant, Salamat’s Macbeth forces the audience to re-evaluate each time he appears on stage, writhing in the horror of his own making until he embraces the evil, loses all sense of humanity and becomes a butchering automaton.

His counterpart in evil, Amy Virginia Buchanan as Lady Macbeth, is a picture of mental instability from the moment she reads the fateful letter from her husband that tells her of the three witches’ prophecy. Spurred by her excessive ambition for her husband and an obsession with power, Lady Macbeth goads her husband into foulest murder but is undone by the remnants of her own conscience driving her insane. Buchanan’s Lady Macbeth fits into the style of this production that emphasizes the emotional, political and mental extremes of this play.

Directed by guest artist Tazewell Thompson, this “Macbeth” is a roiling, romping, testosterone-laced spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man — and woman. Fight scenes — of which there are a great many — effectively directed by Jeremy Riggs are no sophisticated, delicate swordplay; they are grunting, sweating kill fests with sometimes disturbing verisimilitude. Particularly affecting is the murder of Macduff’s wife and children that brought horrified gasps from the audience on Thursday night.

Delbert Unruh’s set, with its towering, empty box of slatted panels and a slanting thrust over the pit was additionally lit from below and behind in Elizabeth Banks’ lighting design. Almost always the characters are shadowed, sometimes outlined by the eerie shafts of light projecting through the panels, emphasizing the otherworldly, the chaos and darkness settling over them as the result of Macbeth’s heinous act. This production also features an original musical score composed by Fabian Obispo that contributes to the pulse-pounding, supernatural atmosphere.

The entire cast embraces the intensity of this play. Brittany Barney, Tali Beth Freidman and Lizzie Hartman fall headlong into their roles as the Three Witches, selling the now-ubiquitous incantations with such force that one feels shivers rather than amusement.

As the anguished Macduff, Erik LaPointe allows the madness of the world to transform him into Macbeth’s conqueror not because he is “not of woman borne,” but because he is tormented by his desire for vengeance. Only a man with a heart as twisted by pain as Macbeth’s heart is by ambition could vanquish the bloody Scot.
To Jake L. Smith, as Malcolm, falls the difficult role of restoring order at the end of the play. Like all of the performers, Smith settles into the language of the play, relishing it, letting it carry him through the difficult scene, allowing Shakespeare’s words to “perform in measure, time and place” what is required for light to return to the Scotland of the play as well as to the stage of the theatre.

“Macbeth” continues with shows today, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.