Director Wendy Lippe revises and lightly re-mixes the text of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" for this Psych Drama Company audio production, creating a taut 90-minute radio play that focuses on the work's psychological horrors.
The story is the same: An ambitious Scottish nobleman, Macbeth (Mark Prokes), hears a prediction from three Witches (a nicely gender-diverse trio comprised of Bryan Sabbath, Lindsay McAuliffe, and Michael Mazzone) that he will rule the land. He and his even more ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Lippe), immediately conclude that they are meant to assassinate the current king, Duncan (Zachary D. McConnell), and seize power — a gambit that entails a rising spiral of murder and triggers a revolt.
Shakespeare's play is rife with acute observations about greed, aggression, and the mind's ability to rationalize wickedness. But Lippe, in revising the text, chooses to concentrate on the risks to the soul, and edits out most of the play's political power dynamics. What she comes away with is a haunting parable about Fate, embodied in the spectral forces that guide (or manipulate) Macbeth and his ruthless Lady. A deal with the devil, after all, is a slippery thing; Lippe crystallizes this truism, and frames her take in the style of a Greek tragedy.
The production's deep, effective subtext is realized by crisp, well-engineered "soundscape designs" (the work of McConnell) as much as by the actors' vocal performances. Macbeth's qualms may be mocked by his wife, but his surrender to brutality and bloodlust is driven by the voices of the Witches, who, we feel, are constantly monitoring both the actions taking place in the physical world and also the metaphysical currents in the characters' hearts and minds. Countervailing agencies — "The Whisperers" — act as better angels [the dark side, and the voice of reason]… but they [the angels] are drowned out.
The cost of Macbeth's ambition and treachery is enormous, of course, but the relevance and potency of this production is not just a matter of a tyrant facing impossible predictions (a forest's trees on the march; a foe "not born of woman") as they manifest themselves in some of the Bard's cleverest work; it's also a matter of Macbeth's choosing to lose his humanity for the sake of pure power — a theme we see writ large all around us in today's world.
Lippe's abridgment is all but seamless, and her distillation powerful. One does miss a few snippets of the excised text: While the atmospherics are neatly tightened up with the wholesale omission of Macbeth's campaign of slaughter against the nobles who oppose him (aside, that is, from the murder of Banquo [Michael Blunt], which is too essential to the play's horror to lose), the play's not quite the same without Macduff's (Brian Dion) anguish at the news of his entire family having been slain.
Such are the tradeoffs when making such an adaptation, which, in this case, is still entirely successful. The cast, sound design, and original score by Zarko Dragojevic work in concert to paint vivid pictures in the mind of the listener. The dark, chilling result is all the more effective for Psych Drama Company's skill in allowing the audience to take an active part, making this production a collaboration with one's own imagination... the most effective form of theater.
Kilian Melloy, EDGE Media Network
The Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor, National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, and The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association.