A Wiccan Macbeth
by Anthony Chase
As I watched the current all-female rendering of Macbeth in Delaware Park, the thought occurred to me that this is a splendid audition for the upcoming Kavinoky Theatre production of A. R. Gurney’s The Grand Manner. Gurney’s play requires an actress to portray Katharine Cornell, one of the great classical actresses of her generation, and calls upon her to recreate Shakespeare’s death of Cleopatra.
And here we have Kate Konigisor, Josie DiVincenzo, Pamela Rose Mangus, Katie White, Lisa Vitrano, Chrissy McDonald, Mary Moebius, Julie Kittsley, Jen Fitzery, Caitlin Coleman, and Anne Roaldi, all emoting in heavy-duty Shakespearean roles, some of which would never go to a woman under any other circumstances—and under the guidance of Eileen Dugan, who would also seem to be a candidate for the role!
The idea of casting women in Macbeth had nothing to do with the content of the play or any vision for a particular interpretation. Nonetheless, the impulse of festival founder Saul Elkin to showcase the abundant female talent in Buffalo’s acting pool proves to be an inspiration. This production is among the most energetic, engaging, and memorable of any tragedy done in Delaware Park in many years.
All hail director Eileen Dugan, who has taken the complication of a cast without men to give us a spooky telling of the Macbeth story from the perspective of the witches. She has streamlined the opening of the play to evoke this tale of intrigue and murder from the incantations of the weird sisters. As the play begins with the caw of a crow (and a uniformly brilliant musical score and sound plot by Tom Makar), three witches in eerie black robes enter in procession, then six, then nine, and soon the stage is filled with a coven of witches.
This is not, however, a collegiate, “everybody gets a part” interpretation. Dugan focuses on her three weird sisters played artfully by Chrissy McDonald, Mary Moebius, and Julie Kittsley. This creepy trio returns at pivotal moments to punctuate the supernatural and deadly lure of fate—notably at points of murder. This focus on the witches helps make Macbeth’s Act IV return to cavern and cauldron all the more fitting—and her spooky and magical gestures, especially after the interval, which seems to have been held for nightfall, are spectacular.
While she has simplified the trajectory of the script somewhat, Dugan has kept numerous references to gender and what defines a man. These add tremendously to the power of the performance as the play reveals that so much of what we would call “a man” is culturally rather than biologically defined. Lady Macbeth suggests that her husband was most truly a man when he spoke of murder, and begs the spirits to unsex her so she can maintain her resolve. And yet, the ultimate man of the evening, Macduff, breaks down when he learns that his wife and children have been killed, stating that he will bear it like a man, but that he must also feel it as a man—which is to say, with the sensitivity associated with women.
One of the unexpected results of casting women in the play is the manner in which the decision exposes Lady Macbeth. Typically, she is the lone female voice in a story that reverberates with male resonance. Many a Lady M has gone down in history, from Sarah Siddons and Ellen Terry to Glenda Jackson. Josie DiVincenzo’s voice sounds rather more contemporary when she speaks the classical text than those of some of the other vocally dexterous ladies with whom she shares the stage, but she gives a performance that grows through the evening, and she skillfully makes sense of and lends power to words. Her later interactions with Macbeth are especially affecting, and she gives a particularly well-tuned and chilling rendering of the sleepwalking scene, aided by the horrified responses of Caitlin Coleman and Anne Roaldi who look on.
Greater curiosity inevitably focuses on the women playing the male roles.
Kate Konigisor’s Macbeth is, naturally, an object of particular interest and scrutiny. She must “dare do all that may become a man.” The actress herself has noted that being a woman has influenced and tempered her interpretations, and this is, certainly, not your traditional Macbeth. Her moments of reflection and soliloquy are especially fresh and illuminating, taking us to the essence of what motivates a human being. At the same time, Konigisor’s performance is notable for being muscular and vigorous without being a drag show. Here is Macbeth, a man played by a woman. Her ambition outstrips her capacity to sustain the conflict caused by her hideous deeds. The portrayal is astute and satisfying.
As Banquo and Macduff, two of Buffalo’s most highly regarded leading ladies throw forth their warlike shields: Lisa Vitrano and Katie White. I have long held this pair in very high regard and these portrayals strengthen that opinion. Either, incidentally, would be a candidate to portray Cornell—as would, when considering approximate age, physicality, and vocal dexterity, Kate Konigisor or Julie Kittsley.
Macbeth will continue through August 15.
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