Photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Mask And Madness In Macbeth, inspired by William Shakespeare, directed by Michael Kelly (Shakespeare In Action/Workman Arts). At Joseph Workman Auditorium (1001 Queen West). To May 10, Friday-Saturday 8 pm. $25, stu $18. 416-703-4881. Rating: NN
Seeing parallels between the topsy-turvy world of Shakespeare's Macbeth and that of people receiving mental health care, director Michael Kelly creates a production using masks to tell the tale of ambitious Macbeth and his equally grasping lady.
What I saw, though, was more a clown show than a mask play -- and I don't mean that in a negative fashion, for I consider good clown a powerful theatrical style.
The concept works well enough: the increasing madness in Scotland brought on by Macbeth's murderous actions turns everything upside down, eventually dragging the Macbeths into the devastation they began.
The problem with the production is one of language and physical work. Some of the masks, designed by Melody Anderson (with Sonia Norris credited with mask direction), obscure and muffle the actors' voices. Even when the muffling isn't a problem, several performers speak the text flatly; after a while you tend to stop listening.
Because mask freezes a character's face in one position, the actor has to rely on her or his body to communicate emotions that go beyond those voiced. Kate Fenton visually suggests the sultriness and rapacious sexuality of Lady Macbeth, but is less successful with the text and the character's range of feelings.
Still, there is some strong work. As Macduff, Adam Seybold uses language and physicality to hold our attention.
And happily, Xuan Fraser's Macbeth draws us into the play whenever he's onstage. Making his points verbally and physically -- not just with his hands, but with his whole body -- this piggy-masked Macbeth is a buffoon with a touch of the braggart Falstaff, another of the Bard's great creations. Fraser makes the usually tragic Macbeth a blend of the comical and the dangerous. Who knew that Macbeth could blow a raspberry yet never fully lose his gravitas?
Director Kelly achieves some striking moments, too, in his staging of the final witches' scene and the final scenes for the two central figures, which has them tangled in parts of the set, unable to escape the destiny they've made for themselves.
In fact, there's much to admire in Glenn Davidson's set and lighting, which emphasize blood-red and midnight-black as the production's key colour (and emotional) scheme.