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MACBETH continues at Shakespeare in Delaware Park but only through August 20.

THE BASICS:  MACBETH by William Shakespeare presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park (SIDP) directed by Saul Elkin, starring Matt Witten, Lisa Vitrano, Chris Hatch, Jamie Nablo, Nick Stevens, Ray Boucher, Jerry Maher, and others, runs through August 20, Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30. Admission is free, but a goodwill offering is solicited at intermission by the actors. All performances are on “Shakespeare Hill” near the Rose Garden and Marcy Casino in Delaware Park (tell your GPS it’s 199 Lincoln Parkway, Buffalo, NY 14222). Bring a picnic, a blanket or lawn chair, and perhaps a jacket as performances continue past sundown. Runtime: 2 – ½ hours including one 20-minute intermission. Suitable for all ages. For more information, call 856-4533 or visit www.shakespeareindelawarepark.org. The best way to know if a show is cancelled due to weather is to follow Shakespeare in Delaware Park on Facebook. Decisions are typically made after 6:30 p.m.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  This is the famous tragedy by Shakespeare, his shortest tragedy, by the way, and more performed than any other. After heroic action on the battlefield, Macbeth and his friend Banquo are returning to their King, Duncan, when they encounter the three witches (think three Fates) who predict great futures for both. As the prophecies start to come true for Macbeth, he and Lady Macbeth take a more “hands on” approach to speed things up, killing first King Duncan, and then several others. Ultimately Lady Macbeth kills herself (off stage) and Macbeth himself is done in by Macduff.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: It’s a bit ironic that the script opens as follows: “Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 1 Thunder and lightning. Enter three WITCHES. First Witch: When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?…” Good question. Mother Nature has not been kind to Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s fourth mounting of Macbeth. Rehearsals were interrupted or cancelled due to bad weather, opening night (when I first went) was rained out after intermission, and several performances after that were either cut short or cancelled. Hopefully they’ll be able to perform for the rest of the run.

Macbeth was my first Shakespeare play when we read it out loud in 10th grade English class; I loved it then (my teacher, John Gelsinger, wrote on top of my paper “a fine paper despite some foul spelling”) and I love it to this day. Every production brings some delights. At the New Phoenix Theatre a few years back, it was a combination of both the intimacy (the place is so small everything is RIGHT THERE) and the on-stage cellist playing throughout that made it magic. Last season at The Stratford Festival it was, in addition to the superb acting which one would expect, special effects that kept you off-balance and had you questioning yourself (“did I just see what I thought I saw?”).

For this current SIDP production, there were things I’d never seen before.

For this current SIDP production, there were things I’d never seen before. First were the dancing three witches in their red and black. We’ve all see the three hags/crones bent over their cauldron, but the derivation of the word “weird” comes from a word for “fate” and so these are the three Fates of ancient tragedies or the three Norns of Norse mythology. Who knows what the Fates look like? Anyway, with lighting, stage fog, music, and SFX including echo, they (Cassidy Kreuzer, Gretchen Martino, and Amelia Scinta) were a refreshing change from the “same old same old” Hallowe’en type witches.

And the other “new to me” moment was the brutal murder of Macduff’s family, not so much the stage-y stabbing of the boy, but the slow drag across the floor strangulation of Macduff’s wife (Jamie Nablo) followed by hauling her off stage like a sack of potatoes. Wow. So when Macduff (Chris Hatch) gets his revenge, it doesn’t come easily (Matt Witten who plays Macbeth is a big guy) but Macduff fights like a man possessed, and after seeing the way his wife was treated, it’s a moment we’ve been waiting for.

I can’t imagine how I would cast this differently.

I can’t imagine how I would cast this differently. Matt Witten is Buffalo’s resident powerful guy (he’s played many larger than life characters – “Egmont” with the BPO, “Richard Lionheart” and “Sir Robert Morton” both at Irish Classical, to name a few). Lisa Vitrano as Lady Macbeth was well matched with Witten; Hatch recently played “Petruchio” in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW while Nick Stevens (who played Malcolm) was recently the scary “Falconer” in THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER (along with Vitrano) so they all had some bard cred.

But, this is a psychological drama, not just another Jacobean revenge play, and it seemed to me that the few moments of inner turmoil or reflection were too quickly glossed over. I know that Shakespeare doesn’t give Lady Macbeth much time on stage before she’s already decided to murder her king, Duncan. Some of that can be explained by that fact that letters have come from her husband describing the three witches’ predictions, so she’s had plenty of time off-stage, before her first entrance, to ponder these things. Still, if she had been allowed a brief second to slow down, pause, and mull…. To let us get “up to speed” with her thinking, I would have appreciated it.

Every “action” entertainment ever written, whether movie, opera, musical, play, or television show, has those ‘adagio’ moments where things get quiet and intimate.

Every “action” entertainment ever written, whether movie, opera, musical, play, or television show, has those “adagio” moments where things get quiet and intimate. The cliché scene in war movies is where, in the foxhole, the next person to die first tells us what he’s going to do after he gets home. But for some reason, in this play, those opportunities (admittedly rare) didn’t feel like a reflective pause.

Witten’s “Is this a dagger I see before me?” scene, his reaction(s) to Banquo’s ghost, and his “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” moments did not contrast to the general hurly-burly of Macbeth enough to provide those “adagio” moments. Witten is a very talented guy, so I’m going to think that the direction he was given, along with the staging and lighting just weren’t going in that direction.

So, in the end, for me, the whole was not as great as the sum of its individual actors promised. Having said that, by all means go. And certainly, if you’ve ever thought that Shakespeare can be hard to understand, is too full of 17th century references not to mention obscure puns, etc. this play has none of those issues. It’s very understandable, it moves along, and you will walk back up the hill to your car feeling great.

And, one last note, the playbill which is handed to you by the younger cast members (in costume) as you approach the hill is first class. I couldn’t see a credit for design, but they are consistently keepsake quality. Everything – the cover art, the fine glossy paper quality, the photos, the summaries, the “Family Fun Page” – would be impressive for any theater, yes, even on Broadway, but to have such high quality at a “free,” outdoor venue is just such a delight year after year. Take some time to peruse it before the show. You will be well rewarded.

Photo: Christopher Scinta – christopherscinta.com

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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